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Unveiling the History of the Famous Barcelos Rooster

Unveiling the History of the Famous Barcelos Rooster

Barcelos is a quaint town situated in northern Portugal, celebrated for its expertise in crafting both practical and ornamental ceramic items, along with hosting a vibrant market.

Within this town, a captivating legend unfolded involving a pilgrim and a rooster, eventually transforming into the emblem of the town and, consequently, the national symbol of Portugal. This iconic representation is widely recognized as the Rooster of Barcelos or Galo de Barcelos, also referred to as the Portuguese Rooster.

The city of Barcelos

Located in the northernmost part of Portugal, within the former region of Minho, now part of the Braga district, is the city of Barcelos. Situated approximately 60 kilometers away, just an hour by train from Porto, Barcelos may be perceived as somewhat less alluring compared to Braga or Guimarães. Nevertheless, it stands as an essential city in the Minho region, deserving attention and exploration.

Barcelos I Portugal
Barcelos view - Credit Luisa Paixão

Barcelos traces its roots back to the 12th century, when D. Afonso Henriques bestowed upon it a charter, officially granting the status of a town. Subsequently, in 1298, D. Dinis elevated the town further by conferring the title of Count upon his steward, João Afonso, along with the ownership of Barcelos.

The town experienced a notable period of development in the 13th century, marked by the construction of a bridge and defensive wall. Notable architectural landmarks such as the Dukes' Palace (Paço dos Duques) and the Romanesque church (Igreja de Santa Maria Maior, Matriz de Barcelos) also took shape during this era, contributing to the rich historical heritage of the town.

In the present day, Barcelos continues to exude its medieval charm, with a landscape adorned by manors and historic houses, preserving a captivating atmosphere that reflects its centuries-old history.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Terço

The church features a remarkably understated and simple facade, creating a striking contrast with its Portuguese Baroque-style interior. The inner sanctum harmoniously blends paintings, sculptures, and azulejos, forming a captivating fusion of artistic elements.

Notably, the walls are entirely adorned with azulejos panels meticulously painted in 1713 by the master artist António de Oliveira Bernardes. The painted wooden coffered ceilings add to the visual splendor, showcasing intricate craftsmanship. Additionally, the presence of a canopy pulpit and elaborately carved gilded wooden altars further enhances the opulence and aesthetic appeal of the interior space.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Terço - Credit Luisa Paixão

Igreja do Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz

Constructed in 1704, this Baroque church showcases a distinctive architectural style synonymous with northern Portugal, employing granite and limestone in its construction. The impressive structure is characterized by its octagonal plan, robust walls, and a substantial granite dome, measuring approximately 10 meters in diameter.

The church stands out for its remarkable features, including splendid 18th-century azulejos panels that adorn its interior. Additionally, the carved altars crafted from gilded wood, dating back to the 16th century, contribute to the church's historical and artistic significance, adding a layer of timeless elegance to the overall aesthetic.

Igreja do Senhor bom Jesus - Credit Luisa Paixão

Igreja de Santa Maria Maior, Matriz de Barcelos

Dating back to the 14th century, this medieval church presents an interior that captivates with its compelling interplay of architectural styles. The austere Romanesque design forms a stark contrast with the opulent elements of the 18th-century azulejos panels and the intricate, golden sculpted altars.

Beyond its architectural and artistic richness, the church's surroundings hold historical significance. In close proximity to the church stands the Pillar of Barcelos, erected by the pilgrim central to the legend of the Barcelos Rooster. This external feature adds an additional layer of cultural and historical context to the site.

Igreja de Santa Maria Maior - Credit Luisa Paixão 

The historic district

The historic district of Barcelos is centered around the medieval bridge that spans the Rio Cavado, linking Barcelos and Barcelinhos. Especially enchanting at nightfall, this area is accentuated by beautiful lighting that enhances the atmospheric charm of the medieval surroundings.

Barcelos historic district - Credit Luisa Paixão 

Barcelos market

Barcelos, along with Braga and Guimarães, stands as one of the three key cities in the historical Minho region. It serves as the birthplace of a vibrant and diverse popular culture, characterized by a persistent folklore and a distinctive craft industry. The renowned Barcelos Rooster is emblematic of this unique craftsmanship, representing the town's rich cultural heritage.

The weekly fair is a pivotal event that sets the rhythm of life in Barcelos, proudly declaring itself the craft capital. This longstanding tradition traces its roots back to 1412. Every Thursday, the town becomes a vibrant hub where a diverse array of popular crafts, including pottery, embroidery, weaving, basketry, woodcarving, and ironwork, converges. Additionally, the fair serves as a marketplace for fresh produce sourced from the region's gardens.

The Feira de Barcelos stands as one of the primary tourist attractions, serving as a wellspring of inspiration for poets, writers, and artists drawn to the lively tapestry of creativity and cultural exchange that unfolds within its bustling atmosphere.

The Barcelos rooster legend

The legend recounts a time when the people of Barcelos were troubled by an unresolved crime in their town. In an attempt to ease the concerns of the residents, authorities apprehended a pilgrim en route to Saint James of Compostela. Swiftly convicted, the pilgrim pleaded to be presented before the judge, who was enjoying a banquet with friends.

Maintaining his innocence, the pilgrim drew attention to a roasted rooster on the table, declaring, "My innocence is as unmistakable as the clear fact that this rooster will crow when you hang me."

Barcelos Rooster in Barcelos town - Credit Luisa Paixão

In a surprising turn of events, the seemingly impossible occurred! As the pilgrim faced the gallows, the roasted rooster, previously lifeless on the table, miraculously stood up and crowed. Startled by this extraordinary event, the judge hastened to the scaffold, promptly releasing the traveler and permitting him to resume his pilgrimage.

Years later, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos, deeply grateful for his unexpected reprieve. In gratitude, he erected a monument dedicated to Saint James and the Virgin. This pivotal moment gave rise to the enduring legend of the Barcelos Rooster, forever etching the tale into the town's rich cultural history.

The Ceramic Barcelos rooster

The traditional Barcelos Rooster is a stylized ceramic rooster, black in color, with a red comb, blue feet, and wings adorned with hearts.

Today, a true Portuguese icon, the Barcelos Rooster is renowned for bringing luck and holds a prominent place in every Portuguese household.

Contemporary representations of the Barcelos Rooster.

The most renowned artists in Portugal, along with all artisans, have consistently expressed their creativity by reinventing this traditional symbol.

Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos is a contemporary Portuguese artist based in Lisbon. She gained international recognition in 2005 when her sculpture, "The Bride," made a significant impact at the Venice Biennale. The attention garnered by this work marked a turning point in her career, showcasing her unique artistic vision.

In 2012, Joana Vasconcelos was invited as a guest artist at the Palace of Versailles for the Contemporary Art Exhibition. Her presence in such a prestigious venue demonstrated the appreciation for her innovative and thought-provoking approach to art.

Joana Vasconcelos is known for her ability to blend traditional Portuguese crafts with a modern, often monumental, artistic expression, contributing to her distinctive position in the contemporary art scene.

In 2016, Joana Vasconcelos presented "Pop Galo," a monumental artwork inspired by the iconic rooster of Barcelos. Demonstrating her unique artistic approach, Vasconcelos offered a contemporary reinterpretation of this traditional symbol.

The artwork skillfully combines the national tradition of handmade tile production with cutting-edge LED technology, showcasing a seamless blend of heritage and modernity. "Pop Galo" not only pays homage to the cultural legacy of the Barcelos Rooster but also reflects Vasconcelos' innovative use of materials and techniques in her artistic practice.

Julia cota

Júlia da Rocha Fernandes de Sousa, commonly recognized as Júlia Côta, hails from one of the esteemed families associated with Minho handicrafts. She holds the significant lineage as the granddaughter of João Domingos Côta da Rocha, often referred to as the father of the Rooster of Barcelos. This familial connection underscores her deep roots in the craft tradition of the region, contributing to her prominence in the realm of Minho handicrafts.

At the age of 83, Júlia Côta continues to mold clay, showcasing a lifelong dedication to her craft. Her creations have become integral components of private collections, finding homes across the globe. Júlia's works are not only sought after by collectors but are also featured in temporary exhibitions and retrospectives, attesting to the enduring appeal and artistic significance of her contributions to the world of ceramics. Her commitment to shaping clay has not only spanned decades but has also left a lasting legacy in the realm of contemporary ceramic art.

Ceramic workshops.

Today, nearly every ceramic workshop engages in the production of their version of the "Galo de Barcelos." Some workshops choose to replicate the original rooster with differing levels of craftsmanship, while others opt for reinterpretation, infusing the traditional symbol with a more modern and contemporary aesthetic.

This diversity in approaches highlights the enduring popularity and adaptability of the Barcelos Rooster, as it continues to be a source of inspiration for artists and artisans alike, evolving with the times while maintaining its cultural and artistic significance.

Modern art and the Galo de Barcelos

In contemporary times, the Portuguese tradition, particularly the iconic Galo de Barcelos, serves as a wellspring of inspiration for numerous young artists in Portugal.

The cultural and artistic significance of this symbol resonates with the creative minds of the newer generation, leading to a reimagining and reinterpretation of the traditional motif. The Galo de Barcelos has become a canvas for artistic expression, reflecting the enduring influence of Portugal's rich heritage on the vibrant and evolving landscape of the country's art scene.

Discover the collection

By traversing Portugal, especially the northern region, we have assembled the most extensive collection of Barcelos Roosters available for sale.

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