5 Authentic European Crafts You Should Know About
One of the reasons we love Europe is because of its rich heritage and the immense variety of traditional arts and crafts. Whether you are into glassware, woodcarving, jewelry, or embroidery, fine, high-quality products can be found if you know where to look. Here are some authentic European crafts to consider.
Romania – Horezu Pottery
No wonder the Horezu pottery is protected as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Traditionally hand-made in the region around the town of Horezu in Transylvania, it is the result of the knowledge and craftsmanship of countless generations of potters – a tradition which is still passed on within the family.
What makes the Horezu pottery unique are the centuries-old hand techniques used to shape the clay, the use of traditional tools – potter’s wheels, hollowed-out bull’s horns, quills, and wire-tipped sticks for decoration, and wood-burning kilns. Decorative elements include stylized flowers, spirals, stars, and the famous Hurezu Rooster. Each year (usually on the first weekend of June), the Horezu Rooster Festival brings together artisans from all over Romania who display their products and show their craftsmanship in workshops.
Bulgarian Rose Oil
South across the Danube, Bulgaria has been known for its fragrant roses since the times of the Ottoman Empire.
Located at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, the famous Rose Valley has been a center of rose cultivation and rose oil extraction for centuries. The particular type or rose was introduced to this region from Asia Minor in the 18th – 19th century and, thanks to the favorable climate and soil, rose oil production soon became a major industry providing over half of the world’s supply of rose oil.
The roses bloom from late May till early June and have to be hand-picked before dawn in order to preserve their oil content. If you happen to be there at this time of year, you can visit a rose oil distillery and learn about the entire process – how the rose petals are collected, soaked, and heated so that the fragrance can be captured during the steam distillation. This is when the annual Rose Festival is also celebrated (usually in the first weekend of June).
Czech Republic – Bohemian Crystal
Artisan glass (also called ‘crystal’ depending on its lead content) has been manufactured in Bohemia since the Middle Ages when the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Known for its exquisite craftsmanship and superior quality, the engraved, gilded, and hand painted Bohemian glassware and chandeliers were sought-after by royalty and nobility including the likes of Louis XV, Maria Theresa, and Elizabeth the Great.
Today, there are many companies in the Czech Republic specializing in Bohemian glass, but the best-known is probably Moser. Founded in the 1890s, it soon became the most prestigious brand of handmade decorative glass in the Habsburg monarchy and was appointed royal purveyor to Franz Joseph I and Eduard VII. Nowadays, Moser is a deluxe brand with stores all around the world, but if you are into artisan glass, the one in Prague’s Old Town Square is spectacular and not to be missed.
Hungary – Kalocsai and Matyo Embroidery
Making intricate embroidery has centuries-old traditions in Hungary and still flourishes in some of the country’s regions today. Two local varieties – Kalocsai and Matyo, are among the best-known and each comes with its distinct style, colors, and patterns.
Kalocsai embroidery got its name from the town of Kalocsa in Southern Hungary. Its unique style is based on freehand drawing and mixed style of stitching, which results in endless variations and designs which are almost impossible to copy or imitate. Traditionally, these depict floral motifs – tulips, carnations, bluebells, roses, in bright and vivid colors.
The Matyo people are an ethnic group which lives in Northern Hungary and their traditional costumes are lavishly decorated with embroidery in bold colors and patterns including flowers, leaves, birds, hearts, and stars.
If you are into folk costumes and embroidery, the annual Festival of Folk Arts held in the Buda Castle each August brings together some of the country’s finest artisans. This is a great chance to experience a variety of folk crafts, enjoy live music and dance, taste Hungarian wine and palinka brandy, and sample traditional dishes.
Poland – Baltic Amber
Did you know that the Baltic coast is home to the world’s largest amber deposits? Some 40 million years ago, the region was covered with forests and the fossilized tree resin gradually turned into the gemstone pearls so treasured throughout history and today. Amber nuggets still sometimes get washed ashore on the Baltic beaches, especially after heavy storms.
Due to its location on the Baltic coast, in the 16th – 18th centuries, the Polish port city of Gdansk prospered as an amber trading and artisan center catering to wealthy merchants, nobility, aristocracy, clergy, and the Polish kings. Nowadays, there are numerous shops selling amber jewelry in Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk and the Amber Museum in Gdansk (located in a medieval prison tower) offers a fascinating insight into the millennia-long history of the precious gemstone.
Next time you travel to these destinations, make sure to check out these authentic European crafts which epitomize centuries-old traditions, unique local character, and are a great way to meet local craftsmen and artisans. Not sure how to incorporate these regions into your next trip? No worries, I know how best to get you there!