The town, mind-blowingly impressive, has to be considered one of Colombia’s best kept secrets.
Raquira, a village of 3,400 people, sits at an altitude of 2,150 meters (7,050 feet) in the mountains of Boyaca, a trek of just a few hours outside of Bogota. The town dates back to Muisca who lived here long before the Spanish conquest. Raquira, meaning ‘City of Pots’, has always been famous for its ceramics, pottery and handicrafts. Pottery fragments have been found dating back 8,000 years. Pottery has always been the town’s bread and butter and remains so today.
A colony of pottery artisans live in town. More than 80% of the towns people make a living producing traditional Andean pottery with clay manually extracted from local clay mines.
The small town is a awash in color. The streets are lined with souvenir shops with hotel rooms and residences on the second and third floors. Several blocks of brightly painted, 3-story buildings line main street. The families of craftsmen live above their shops, their workshops and stores on the main floor and their store fronts spilling out into the street.
Raquira has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site
Raquira is renown as one of the most beautiful villages in Boyaca – a department of beautiful, Spanish colonial villages – Villa de Leyva and Monqui are the most famous.
The town square is lined with massive clay structures of pottery makers, religious figures and animals. The majority of stores on the colorful main street sell everything from hand-painted ceramic bowls to plates and cups, toys to artwork, vases, hammocks, wood carvings and jewelry. The merchants all compete for the most ambitious store front to better enchant the strolling shoppers.
The Sunday Market in Raquira
The shops in town are open all week. While it’s pretty quiet during the weekdays, the weekends are a different story. The town’s main market is every Sunday. Farmers and vendors flock to town set up stalls in the central square, Plaza Raquira with San Antonio de Padua church. It is a social and commercial event with people from the village and countryside all coming to town to shop and meet.
Visitors start arriving the night before. There are plenty of small but accommodating hotels right in town. The crowds of shoppers start arriving Saturday afternoon and by mid-morning Sunday the town is busy with crowds, trucks, buses and cars. Hundreds of day trippers from Bogota (only a 3 hour, 100 kilometer drive away) fill the streets carrying bags of artisanal treasures, loading their trunks with pottery but not leaving before eating a late breakfast or lunch at a sidewalk restaurant in the plaza.
Pottery Transformation – Old School to New
Pottery production has been slowly transforming in Raquira and in the rest of Colombia over the last 40 years becoming more of an industrial operation. This shift has seen the pottery making process change from women to men, from countryside to the villages.
Today pottery making involves mass production. To make vast quantities, men use more modern day Mediterranean updraft kilns, glazes and molds.
But coexisting with this mass production is a pre-industrial mode of production in Raquira. The women continue making pottery in the traditional way: hand kneading the clay, hand molding the crockery, using earth ovens to dry the pottery pieces which are later painted by hand. Unique pieces are still being produced this way and can be found displayed in street side galleries dedicated to more artistic and artisanal pieces. And sometimes these works can be found in the souvenir shops buried amidst the mass produced earthenware.
After buying something it’s alright to ask the shop keeper to see their ovens in the back. Some may be hesitant to show you the molds and kilns preferring you to believe everything is hand-made.
If you want to learn more about the ceramic and pottery production in Raquira, ask around about pottery work shops. There are many in and around town one can attend. Either sit in on an ongoing course or they can build a course to suit your needs or organize a pottery making demonstration.
How to get there
Raquira is only 25 kilometers or a 45 minute bus ride from Villa de Leyva making it a great day trip. To get there take a bus from the terminal in Leyva (8,000 COP). Buses run every 90 minutes with the last bus leaving Leyva at 4:30 p.m and the last one from Raquira to Leyva also departing late afternoon.
For more on villages in Boyaca see: The Beautiful Colonial Villages of Boyaca