Umbria unveiled: The Brick Museum in Marsciano

brick museum museo laterizio marsciano

Why should we visit a Brick Museum? Bricks are used to realize buildings and have nothing to do with culture, art, beauty… Nothing could be further from the truth: I realize it as soon as I enter the first rooms of the Museum.

Bricks are a fundamental component of human life, from when man started to build dwellings that could be considered so. Such objects seem not to be interesting at all, but for those who have the sensitivity to see and hear, they are able to tell us our history, the daily one, perhaps the less important, but more intimate and closer to each of us.

Let’s start the visit: in the first rooms examples of Roman bricks, found in the Marsciano area, are on display. A clear sign that the area has always been devoted to the work with clay, from ancient times until today.

Then we move on to the rooms where craftsmanships of pre- industrial era are shown, full of poetry, in my opinion… The poetry of a hard job that required the complete symbiosis of man’s work with the rhythms of nature and seasons. A whole year was necessary to achieve a firing in the kiln: between October and December the firewood needed to cook, the pieces were cut and the clay was quarried. The wood dried and the clay became more resistant, thanks to the chemical binders; the months of January and February no activities took place, because of the bad weather and low temperatures. From March onwards the process itself took place: the clay was kneaded with water, placed in molds to realize the objects needed, and then left to dry naturally until the arrival of summer, the time in which the pieces were cooked in the furnace, all together, according to a particular a technique, suitable to avoid as much as possible, breakage and waste. The firing lasted 15 days, during this time the workers involved worked all time to keep the furnace at a stable temperature. Simple thing to say, but a deep knowledge of the work and huge technical expertise was needed, because there were no thermostats or thermometers for measuring. Examples of artifacts are on display to show the production.


With the arrival of the industrial Hoffman furnace, all these steps were “forced” and the production became intensive and, for the first time, it was possible to produce the perforated brick.

The reconstruction of an Etruscan tomb of the fourth century BC, found in the territory of Marsciano, with its accompanying terracotta ornaments is on display. Given the large number of bowls and various containers it should be the tomb of a woman who used these objects to contain perfumes, cosmetics and for kitchen use.

The highlight of the production and use of terracotta objects for daily house use took place in 1800: we can see the objects used in all the farmhouses in Umbria and beyond: pans, “stufarole” of various shapes, the “pretine” (like hot water bottles), warmers that were filled with hot ash, kettles that were used on the barrels to raise the boiling wine, soup bowls, dripping pans. The pitchers, the “colaerba” to dry boiled vegetables. A large container for washing clothes, with a hole at the bottom, to let the clothes soak with ash or lard, before being washed and rinsed.

Once damaged, the pieces, so precious, could not be thrown away. Here then the mastery of “Ferrapignatte” the man who gave a second life to objects blocking them in a network of iron wire or expertly sewing the pieces of the borken object together to allow further use.

The gallery of the jars of the Brick Museum is breathtaking: a theory of large jars, decorated, perfectly preserved and very ancient and rare, lead us to the other rooms of the Museum. The jars may contain olive oil (potbellied and with the only opening in the upper part) and for the so called vinsanto – sweet wine – (with holes for the insertion of taps that allowed to draw the contents).

Finally we can enjoy a collection of whistles. The most varied forms and styles have inspired the creation of these pieces from all over Italy and the world. Whistles were, and are, used for fun but they were also used, by some populations, to ward off evil and attract the forces of good. There are whistles in the shape of Saints (there is also a religious meaning).

At the end of this journey the concept of “Brick” is quite different… it’s our little daily history, rooted in each of us, is the simplicity of everyday use objects, that talks about of our lives.

Benedetta Tintillini

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