The coastal inlets cutting through the city of Aveiro – in northern Portugal – created four canals, which became integral to Aveiro’s development and identity. Along these canals, you’ll find moliceiros. A moliceiro is a type of boat unique to the city and they’ve subsequently become one of the most widely recognizable symbols of the region and throughout Portugal. But what’s so special about these boats, and what makes them so iconic?
These long, narrow boats are easily distinguished by their painted exteriors and curly fronts. Traditionally, they were used for hauling seagrass, or moliço, which was used as fertilizer for farming. Nowadays, they’re used for tourism.
I went on such a tour on my last trip to Aveiro. The 30-45 minute tours take you along the four canals. At the end of one of the canals you can see salt pans (insider tip: go in the late summer/early fall for the most impressive views of the salt stacked up). Passengers are also told about the fishing history of the area and how the city has grown, all the while enjoying the views of the beautiful art deco buildings which line the ria (the inlet). The moliceiro has become such an iconic part of the city that it’s depicted in all sorts of traditional art forms such as in the Portuguese calçada and on azulejos (both below). There’s even a convent sweet called a moliceiro which is shaped like one.
The artwork on the moliceiros are typically very colorful, often have flowers and other ornaments and their subjects can range from religious imagery of the Virgin Mary to more vulgar artwork with rude puns. But do not confuse the moliceiros with another traditional boat you can find in Aveiro: the mercatelo. Mercatelos are wider and their bows don’t curl up the way the moliceiros do. Mercatelos were used for transporting salt and other merchandise. So when you go to Aveiro next, you can impress all the tour guides with your insider knowledge!
Have you been to Aveiro and seen the moliceiros? Share with me in the comments below!