A Village of Pottery
San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua
San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua is truly a "Village of Pottery". This village of nearly 6,000 people sits upon deep deposits of clay that were laid down by volcanic activity in the distant past. San Juan is well known for its art work and has been a pottery center since pre-Colombian times. Today this village is home to many family run workshops and a pottery cooperative where a well-recognized style of pottery is being produced.
In early times, two tribes from southern Mexico settled in the area after Aztecs forced them from their homeland. It is perhaps from these early immigrants into the region that the pottery making tradition was introduced, or perhaps it existed here even prior to this time. The best we can tell is that the pottery making tradition of the area has been around since at least 500 BC. Archeological sites throughout Nicaragua have uncovered pottery, used in daily cooking and eating as well as funerary vessels, dating back over 2000 years. Of course, the exact origins of the local pottery making tradition are lost in time.
The present-day village dates back over 400 years ago when, in the late 1500’s, the town was founded by Spanish colonizers Juan de Bracamonte and Gervacio Gallegos during Nicaragua’s early settlement era. The village was first called San Juan el Bautista, taking its name from its patron saint, John the Baptist. To this day the villagers hold an annual parade through town in honor of their namesake. Long known for its ceramic plates and decorative pottery, San Juan was later called San Juan de Los Platos (San Juan of the Plates or Platters). In fact, the Spaniards were at one time paid in pottery as a local form of currency. After Nicaragua declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the village was again renamed, changing San Juan de Los Platos to San Juan de Oriente, or Saint John of the East.
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