dos Moinhos de Vento, 3
+ 351 266 419 149
for Maria, who speaks English).
de Arraiolos Califa, Lda.
Alexandre Herculano, 34
Fax: +351 266 419 427
manager, Alfredo Barbeiro, who speaks excellent English).
history of carpet-making in Arraiolos is a fascinating one. A brochure from D. Nuno ┴lvares Pereira says (with some liberties for corrections):
"Arraiolos carpets are, in their polychromatic weaving,
one of best-known affirmations of the Portuguese people's artistic genius.
"Primitively of Persian inspiration, the Portuguese embroideries
started their manufacture, totally by hand, during the 16th century, impressing on them the best of their personal art, a
product of their own taste, the artistic tendencies of the great Alentejo Plain.
"The motifs which appear printed in the fabric range from
very small arabesques of Persian origin, which represent the 16th century (a first period), to the big floral designs (a second
period), corresponding to the 17th century and reaching a more refined characteristic form in the third period (i.e., the
18th century), maintaining still today the same manufacturing processes and their traditions."
From the brochure, "Tapetes de Arraiolos" (again with
"In 17th century Lisbon, laying and setting rugs in San
Roque was a task for the slaves that the men of the Age of Discoveries brought back to the capital of the empire. It
also was a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy men that gathered around the Temple of the Company of Jesus to listen to the sermons
of Father Antonio Vieira.
"The rug, as an elaborate cultural expression, a reflection
of power and abundance, becomes in the different cultures that it represents, an important element of social, political and
"There is a vast number of documents (texts and paintings)
that refer to the function and the role played by the rug in different social and economic contexts throughout
"There are early references to the Arraiolos Rug -- embroidered
with wool (oblique or Slavonic interwoven cross-stitch) worked on canvas (linen, oakum, jute or hemp) in counted threads --
in the end of the 16th century, which testify to its making in this village of Alentejo.
"In 1598, in the inventory of the personal assets, ordered
by the Judge of the Orphans on the death of the respective proprietors, the first reference is made to a rug made in this
village: 'A new canvas rug appraised at two thousand reis.'
"Several documents in the same inventory between 1598
and 1700, mention the existence of embroiders, the making of the rug, as well as the presence of craftsmen -- carders, fullers,
dyers and weavers -- that dedicated themselves to the treating of the wool and the making of the canvas.
The Arraiolos Rug had in its initial stage -- last decade
of the 16th century / first decade of the 17th century -- a Moorish origin. It contains a pre-decorative setting --
border, field and center ( whenever it has the central ornament) divided in four parts (quarters) -- dominated by the same
principles that define the Persian rug.
"With the expelling of Jews and Moors from Spain by the
Catholic kings and the beginning of the exodus, along with the temporary settlement of these peoples in Portugal, until 1511
-- when Manuel I forced them to resume their journey to the north of Africa -- various people decided to settle down in Arraiolos,
due to the warm welcome, the abundance of herds, of excellent wool and the diversity of plants, indispensable to the dying
and making of canvas, together with the sensitivity and work capacity of the villagers.
"Witht eh presence of Jews and Moors, by now "New Christians,"
the Arraiolos rug gains a new expression, a greater vitality.
"The examples executed in this period, during most of
the 17th century, reveal a strong Oriental influence -- with a profusion of motifs from Persia, Iraq and India, associated
to a rich chromatism and geometric drawing, delicately elaborated. In some of these examples, the major part of the
motifs was delineated in "pe-de-flor" stitch. In others, one can find the influence of motifs taken from the Spanish
rugs of Alcaraz and Cuenca.
"Little by little, the presence of Oriental motifs diminishes
and they start to be replaced by anthropomorphic motifs (end of the 17th century / beginning of the 18th century). The
colors become less rich and the decorative elements are more scattered.
"Without the presence of the Oriental motif, the examples
of the end of the 18th century/ beginning of the 19th century, reveal a strong presence of vegetal elements with poor colors.
"On the one hand, there are many families in the village
that, throughout three centuries, have found in the making of Arraiolos rugs a new way of expression, a source of work and
a means of earning money. On the other hand, in the convents around Alentejo, nuns, in the seclusion of their cloisters,
have found ways of expressing their inner faith, creating some of the best examples.
"In the end of the 19th century, the making of Arraiolos
rugs practically did not exist, being reduced to the presence of embroiderers that made rugs by order, as well as those that
were made by the women of the village for their own households, during the long winter nights.
"During this period, the shortage of means resulted in
the making of rugs in natural colors such as whites, browns and coarse woolen cloth.
"With the beginning of the 20th century, the "rebirth"
of the Arraiolos rugs occurs -- a group of women from the village recreated models, based on those which, in different eras,
had been unsurpassed examples of the Arraiolos rugs, thus creating a new era."