Potter has always been one of the most common professions in Aegina. Pottery thrived on the island due to the raw material used in pottery, the white to yellow argil, found in abundance in the areas of Messagros, Kypseli and in the town of Aegina. Aegina clay water jugs (kanatia in Greek) have been widely known throughout Greece as early as of the Greek Revolution in 1821, as many written sources of that time attest.
Due to their characteristic off-white colour and their ability to keep drinking water cool, the clay water jugs of Aegina became the most popular jugs in Modern Greek history. Long before refrigerators made their appearance, Aegina clay water jugs were the preferred choice of the residents of Athens and Piraeus for keeping their drinking water cool. Barba-Giannis, the famous potter for whom many songs have been written, is said to have come from the island of Aegina.
A historical picture taken by famous photographer Voula Papaioannou illustrates hundreds of clay water jugs arranged in line in the port of Aegina waiting to be shipped on the fishing boats to get to Athens.
These famous clay water jugs were equipped with one or two handles and a wide mouth with a spout to neatly pour water. Many jugs came decorated either with the embossed stamp of the potter or with various painted representations of flowers, Greek flags or Aegina fishing boats.
The village of Messagros is home to Aegina’s most famous pottery workshops, such as the workshop of Garis and Sklavainas, still operating nowadays, the workshops of Kyriakos Chaldeos, Dionysis Galaris and Dimosthenis Rodis.
Using shovels and pickaxes earth was dug out and then, carried to the potter’s workshop in gunny sacks or cane baskets. Following a special technique, earth was pounded into powder. Then, inside a wide water cittern earth was turned into mud and then to clay. Using the foot-powered wheel, the amorphous clay mass was shaped into a beautiful clay water jug. On the next day, handles were added on the jugs while some potters also decorated the jugs with their embossed stamps on that very same day. Left to dry naturally for three days, once hardened, jugs were fired in the kiln. Once baked, jugs were left to cool for another three days in the kiln without a lit fire. Grinding or finishing followed and then, it was time for the painting representations to be added.
There it was! Aegina clay water pots were ready to conquer the markets!