I thought I would write this post as soon as I returned home. In retrospect, I am am happy to have had the time to think about my trip (certainly on my bucket list of places to go and things to see), the intensity of the place situated on the edge of the Sahara desert, the ancient medina with its snake charmers, the saturated colors and the architecture influenced by a complex history.

It will make more sense if I separate out parts of the experience and write about them independently.  Of course, tile lover that I am, I first want to write about the patterns and colors of Moroccan tile. Zellig, mosaic tiling, dates back centuries in Morocco. It is possible that the designs were brought to North Africa from Syria but Moroccans adapted it to make it their own. The palette is bright and rich and the patterns geometric and floral since Islam does not encourage the portrayal of animals or human figures.

There are countless patterns in thousands of color combinations. It is hard to find any duplicates. What fascinates me is the time consuming fabrication process. I was told that a large mosaic Zellig ceramic pattern can take as long as a year to fabricate. Each small piece of tile is shaped by hand.  Often the patterns are stacked and one design flows in to another in a surprising but coherent way. A sophisticated apprentice system is in place where the master craftsman trains younger aspiring artisans.

Moroccan tiles are made of red clay; raw materials are mixed by hand and soaked for a day before being formed into 4″ squares and sun dried. The dried bricks are then glazed in typical yellow, blue, white, green brown and black and placed in the kiln at 1500 degrees. Artisans buy sacks of colors at the market and then begin the arduous process of cutting them in to geometric shapes, each with its own name. Each edge must be trimmed and polished so they fit together perfectly. Needless to say, all of this meticulous hand work takes time and is expensive.  Throughout history, Zellig tile have been used by the wealthy and only on interior walls, fountains or courtyard floors.

Saturated color, intricate pattern, spicy design, dramatic interiors and a commitment to the handmade and artisanal tradition drives the Moroccan style.

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Comments

  • Jill   /   July 21, 2012 at 4:18 am

    I just came back from visiting the Alhambra and Real Alcazar in Seville. The Moorish influence on tilework there is very pronounced as well, though perhaps more subdued (fewer patterns/colors in a single installation) than what you saw in Morocco. Thank you for this very interesting explanation of the very labor-intensive tile-making process.

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