In spite of the speed and convenience of modern design and manufacturing methods, some ancient products are as popular today as ever. Terracotta is definitely on that list. I mean, everyone knows terracotta, right? (Which literally means “cooked earth”.) Perhaps you have terracotta vases for your plants, or maybe the tiles on your roof are terracotta. In fact, all around the world you’ll find baked clay tiles – some brand new, some ages old – covering roofs, paving floors and decorating gardens.
Which leads me to mention the guest apartment house that my husband, Luigi, and I have been finishing off. It sits nestled into the terraced hillside beneath our home in Umbria, and last fall we finally reached the fun stage of choosing the outside, stuccoed wall color. Now we’re on to the flooring – il pavimento. Because our main house is a rustic, 17th century, stone farmhouse we decided to go with traditional, terracotta pavement in our guest apartment …. and that’s when things got really interesting.
It turns out that history, variety and even etiquette are inter-woven with Italian terracotta tiles (simply called cotto “cooked”, in Italian), so a simple selection process is actually not so simple. Hand or machine pressed, rosy-colored or subtly swirled with a yellowish clay, herringbone design or bordered in mosaic. The possibilities and designs are endless – and oh-so beautiful.
Fortunately, our friend, Fabrizio, is an expert, terracotta artisan who uses centuries-old techniques for manufacturing hand-made cotto. A tour through his facility – Cotto Rosato – is not only fascinating in terms of the tile creation process, it’s an imaginary walk upon the floors of elegant palaces, ancient Roman villas, historic townhouses and, of course, those stone, country farmhouses that dot the hillsides of central Italy.
Fabrizio is from Rome (I swear I’ve seen the profile of his face on ancient Roman statues) but he now calls Città della Pieve home. He’s passionate about hand-made tiles (along with crafting furniture from recycled wood and fly-fishing!), and his cotto factory sits alongside a rich hill of clay in an area that has been famous for tile-making since the 13th century. If you were to catch a glimpse inside one of the homes in the historic center of Città della Pieve you’d likely see flooring that dates back to the Renaissance – or before – made from the very same clay that Fabrizio uses today. Wow.
So Lou and I are pondering our cotto pavimento options. Of course, hand-crafted is a given and rustic matone style is a must for a country house … but I’m torn between the all-over rosy tiles and the rosy with gold-yellow swirls here and there – typical of handmade, wood-fired terracotta from the area.
Well, we’ll just have to ponder with a glass of vino. After all, we can see Città della Pieve off in the distance from our terrace. Traditional tiles from an ancient city. We really can’t go wrong.
To know more about the ages-old process of making terracotta, click here!
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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