Isn’t it amazing how you can see something every day but not really know anything about it – or even notice it? Terracotta is a great example of that. It’s all around us – covering rooftops, paving floors, holding our plants and decorating our gardens in the form of statues or fountains – yet this ancient art form often gets overlooked, don’t you think?
My husband and I recently visited our friend Fabrizo’s terracotta factory, Cotto Rosato, where we got the opportunity to see exactly how terracotta pavement tiles (referred to as cotto “cooked” in Italian) are made – from start to finish. I was so impressed by how the traditional methods haven’t really changed in thousands – yes, thousands – of years! Of course some modern machinery has been added, but today’s steps for mixing, forming and baking cotto are the same ones used by the ancient Romans – and the Etruscan before them.
So here is my novice, abbreviated description of that process:
1. Remove clay from clay-filled hillside.
2. Mix the clay with water to just the right consistency.
3. Press (more like beat) the clay into forms.
4. Semi-dry the clay in its forms, then remove and complete the drying process in the sun or (in the case of our friend Fabrizio) on a heated floor.
5. Bake the dried tiles in a kiln at a super-high temperature (about 2400 degrees fahrenheit).
After this final baking, the tiles are completely hardened and ready for use. And, naturally, that’s where the fun really begins with endless ideas for designs and patterns that will make your head spin!
So it seems I’ve formed a new appreciation for a very old art form, and I’ve definitely become a terracotta-tiled-floor admirer. Such a simple thing with so much history and beauty. And what’s not to love about that?
Pamela Haack is an author, specialized travel consultant and founder of Off the Beaten Strada where she creates and hosts custom retreats in central Italy for travelers who wish to be immersed in the history, culture and traditions of the region.
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