Caldas da Rainha
– a spa fit for a queen
Caldas da Ranha is famous for two things – the hot springs that have been drawinig people to the town for centures, and its pottery which has inspired a tradition of art and culture. It was founded in the 15th century by Queen Leonor, who established a hospital at the site of Caldas da Rainha’s therapeutic hot springs. The Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor in Caldas da Rainha is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in world, with five centuries of history.
The founding on the hospital came about after a journey made by Queen Leonor, wife of King Joao, in 1484. En route from Óbidos to Batalha, she found a group of peasants bathing in foul-smelling waters at the roadside. She stopped to inquire about this and was told the waters possessed curative powers. She decided to try them for herself and was so impressed with the results she ordered a thermal hospital to be built so that others could enjoy the relief that she felt. Construction began the following year in 1485 and a settlement grew around the site, eventually becoming what is now the city of Caldas da Rainha.
Art and culture
Caldas da Rainha is also distinguished by its strong arts tradition, which was boosted in the late 1800s when Bordalo Pinheiro (see below) came to the town to establish a ceramics factory which would become famous the world over for its unique designs. A major ceramics industry grew up around the factory and helped establish Caldas da Rainha as one of Portugal’s cultural centres.
Many arts related institutions have made their home in Caldas da Rainha. There are numerous museums in the city, mostly related to ceramics and sculpture, and it has a major arts and design school as well as a school of ceramics. In 2008 the Caldas da Rainha city council inaugurated a new cultural center which has a year-round programme of music, theatre and dance.
The name of Bordalo Pinheiro is seen all over Caldas da Rainha in street names, museums, urban developments and displays of local crafts. It is the name of a prodigiously creative man who was born as Rafael Augusto Prostes Bordalo Pinheiro in the middle of the 19th century.
His output was formidable. He was the founder of the ceramic industry in Caldas da Rainha, the pioneer of billboard art in Portugal, a designer, watercolour artist, illustrator, political cartoonist and journalist.
Pinheiro created the character of Zé Povinho, the pugnacious bearded caricature that dominates ceramic souvenir stalls and has become a nationally recognised symbol in the pantheon of Portuguese cultural figures.
He was born into a privileged artistic family in which he was able to explore his appreciation of the arts and develop his talents. After enrolling and giving up on various courses in civil architecture, dramatic arts, literature and design he found his way to the theatre where he premièred in a production at the Teatro Garrett, after which he gave up acting as a career.
In 1863 his father found him a place in the Câmara dos Pares, Portugal’s equivalent of the House of Lords, and his career prospects improved. Five years later he held his first exhibition of eight watercolours which was well received and in 1871 he won a prize at Madrid’s International Expo.
Four years later he came up with Zé Povinho, published as an illustration in A Lanterna Mágica, and then left for Brazil where he spent the next four years writing social gossip for newspapers there and in Portugal. On his return to Portugal he became known as a keen satirist of the ruling classes.
Pinheiro’s finest hour came when he was invited to lead the founding of the country’s ceramics industry in Caldas da Rainha with the creation of the Fábrica das Faianças das Caldas da Rainha. His signature designs are the green cabbage leaf bowls and various representations of plant and animal life which dominate displays in the local craft shops.