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Sunday, March 15, 2015

QUICK RESEARCH VIII - CORK


Like in so many other “quick researches” I've done, this has not the intention of systematically explaining everything about the chosen subject, but to show a few interesting aspects of it. Today it will be about cork, being cork one of the main industries that have characterized Portugal for a very long time.
Here's what I could find, in a “quick” fashion. Hope you like it.
Cork has been used as far as China, Egypt, Babylonia and Persia 3000 years before Christ, for fishing, like boats (for it's floating ability) ad domestic use (for insulation, roofing and even soles of shoes). And the same goes for the Mediterranean area, after it's archeological findings.
In Italy, in the 4th century BC cork was used for several nautical appliances as buoys and cask lids.
But it were the Romans that then used cork to seal amphorae, although the wine cork as we know it today appears much later. They too used cork for it's insulation properties (warm in Winter, cool in Summer) in house making, something that then transpired to the Middle Ages, as we can see in several convents build around Europe.
In Portugal, there's a good example of the Capuchos Convent which wall are covered in cork. For more go to:

Oak covered wall and ceiling at the Convento dos Capuchos in Sintra, Portugal Picture taken from
http://www.trekearth.com

In 1209, Portugal became the 1st country in Europe to have land laws protecting the montados (a type of agro-pastoral managed “orchard”) of cork oaks (most of them in the Southern Region called Alentejo) and during the Maritime Discoveries, Portuguese caravels had cork coating them: besides being a strong and water tight material, it would never rot.
And let's not forget that the cork oak also gives a type of acorn, used to feed people and animals alike since the dawn of times.
It was only between the beginning to mid 18th century that 2 events happened that changed the cork production to the industry we know today: The English physicist Robert Cook studied for the 1st time cork under a microscope; in France benedictine monk - Dom Pierre Pérignon – used cork as a sealer for champagne bottles for the 1st time (until then, wine bottles in France were closed with oil soaked rags). And the best cork oaks would grow in the Iberian Peninsula area, which meant the beginning of a systematic production of cork.

"View of Cuidad Rodrigo", by T St Clair. Detail of a cork oak that had it's "shell" removed at the right side of the image.
 
Today, Portugal produces half of the cork in the world, with over 730 thousand hectares of cork oak montados, making the Alentejo region the main producer and with one of the most beautiful landscapes in this country, being also a strong touristic attraction:

A cork oak in the the Baixo Alentejo region. Photo taken from http://www.l-and.com/pt/l-and/missao-e-valores/

And to see how all of this is done, please watch the following video:

 

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