Statuesque Canastros

I am fascinated by the old Portuguese granaries known as ‘canastros’, ‘espigueiros’ or ‘caniços’ which can still be seen in the Minho region throughout the north of Portugal.  I have always known them as canastros and driving along country roads or through some small towns, that have old farmhouse style homes with a piece of land around them, one will undisputedly see a canastro there.

These magnificent buildings were, and sometimes still are, used for drying corn cobs after picking, which are then ground into flour to make the typical Portuguese bread called ‘broa de milho‘.

When I first came to Portugal many years ago, the old family home had a magnificent canastro, standing tall to the side of the corn field.  The whole ritual of picking the corn cobs and stripping the corn husk (‘desfolhada’) was a huge event in a village.  The desfolhada was carried out in the evenings with entire families and friends from the village.   The corn would be sitting in big baskets where everyone would sit around the side of the ‘eira’ (outside cemented area also used for drying the corn) stripping the husk and silk from the cob, all accompanied by singing and laughter.   Young people would participate enthusiastically to see if anyone would find the ‘milho rei’ or ‘rainha’ (king and queen cobs, so called, because the king would have beautiful deep red wine coloured kernels and the queen, lighter reddish pink kernels) to be able to give a kiss or a hug to a girlfriend/boyfriend.  In the old days, this was one of the only ways that girls had a unique opportunity of physical contact with a boyfriend, as meetings between couples would always be strictly chaperoned by a family member.  The evening would always finish with food and wine to the sound of accordian music!

It is not known exactly when canastros emerged, but it would seem that they existed back in the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsular.  The concept of building them was to protect the grain from rodents and for storage during the long severe winter months.

They would typically be composed of four or more granite pillars on top of which each had a large circular stone.  These stones were thought to be an insurmountable obstacle for mice that would attempt to climb inside them.  Walls, doors and floors were made from slatted wood allowing good air circulation for prolonging storage.  On older canastros, smaller granite pillars were used for the walls each with a space in between them.  Swinging hinged doors at each end also allowed for easy storage and removal.  The roof would be granite or tiled.  Some additionally had stone crosses at each end of the roof, said to be protective symbols of Solomon.

Canastros or espigueiros make up part of Portugal’s heritage and in the towns of Soajo and Lindoso, there exists the largest concentration of entirely granite ones in the country, dating back to the early 1700’s!  Soajo has 24 of them whilst Lindoso has an amazing group of 64!

From time to time I will add photos of these beautiful buildings to this blog and hope that you will enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoy photographing them.

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4 Responses to Statuesque Canastros

  1. Gwen Diehn says:

    I really enjoy your blog! I was in Porto this past May visiting a friend, and she drove us along the Duoro out in the countryside one day. We stopped at an old village (called Pardinhas) where I believe we saw a canastro, although at the time I didn’t know what it was. It was a small building with slatted sides, elevated from the ground a few feet. Some long stakes were stacked in front, leaning against a low wall.

    • portugaluntouchedtoday says:

      Thank you for reading and following my blog! Yes, with the description that you give me, that definitely would have been a Canastra! They are incredible structures and I have recorded many of them on my travels. I will get some up soon. Thank you again for following me!

  2. Galaico says:

    Canastros only appeared after the discovery of Corn from the Southern Americas during the Portuguese discoveries.

    The introduction of this type of Corn (European Corn called Milho “Painço” was of very lower quality and size) started a social revolution that allowed a remarkable demographic expansion as well as the foundation of a “civilization” that lasted until 50 years ago. It was the time of the agricultural growth of the region and most of the villages, manors and old farms are linked to the wealth around, among other things, corn. Please note that the special geography and climate of the region was ideal for this cereal. Vast humid valleys with huge quantity of water from abundant rains as well as more than enough sun in the summer months.

    The network of natural creeks, rivers, pools, and small dams around sources that we can find in Minho is all about the corn irrigation. A system with complex social implications (exploitation rights around the days and hours) that the exceptional nature of the region allowed.

    Only then the need to create such buildings appeared once that the absence of a Cereal that important never requested it. There was nevertheless an ancestor to these. Probably the “Canastros the Varas”, a circular and vertical vine canastro like these ones:

    With time these structures evolved having an iconographic role in the society. In some parts of the region they are even considered has monuments. For instance when found near to big manor houses and noble proprieties that, obviously, didn’t need them as an actual drying facility.

    Finally, the range of expansion of this sort of facilities goes to Galicia from parts of the North/Central Mountainous Portugal.

    • portugaluntouched says:

      Thank you very much for this fascinating history comment. I was really intrigued to read about the “Canastros de Varas” which I have never seen before. Very interesting. I appreciate your input.

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