Tuesday March 12th 2019 | Porto

A typical Portuguese souvenir

Portugal: from towels to cork

A typical Portuguese souvenir

Nowadays, we associate the word "souvenir" with the thing we bring from a trip. Most of the time, it is meant to remind us of the events of the previous trip or to be a gift for loved ones. But not always, sometimes we bring a given product from another place in the world, because of its lower price or better quality. And so, it was in the past…

Not so long ago, Spaniards crossed the border with Portugal to buy products such as porcelain, cod, wine and, without doubt, Portugal's most distinctive product: towels. In fact, all cotton products were in demand, not just towels. Cloths or sheets were also bought based on quality and price. This practice became so popular that stereotypes were shaped regarding the association of this product with the Portuguese country.

But why towels and not another product? Besides the fact that Portuguese labor was historically cheaper, Portuguese cotton products did not come from the Portuguese mainland, but in many cases from colonies or former colonies with which the Portuguese had favorable trade agreements. The latter gained independence in 1999. But of course, as these agreements weaken and borders begin to disappear, towels lose their importance in the homes of Galicia, Zamora, Salamanca, Badajoz or Huelva, and other economic factors change the panorama. Nowadays, towels are no longer bought in Portugal as in the past, and what the Portuguese export is cork.

Cork exports have always been very important in Portugal, especially for wine, both port and green wine, but the situation has changed. This product has started to lose importance in favor of synthetic cork, which in many cases is preferred for economic reasons and because it does not have as much impact on the final product. So, what should be done with the cork? With the development of tourism, the sector has evolved into a souvenir industry, and today you can find a wide variety of souvenirs made from cork on the streets of Porto, especially on Rúa Santa Catarina.

Today, Portugal is still the world's largest exporter of cork, both in the form of wine bottle stoppers, as well as shoes, bags, wallets and even umbrellas, but don't miss the fact that on our tours it's a green umbrella, not a cork one.

Tags: english , Porto