MOROCCO

SHIBUI Issue - - CONTENTS - CU­RA­TOR KA­RINA EASTWAY THE MAKER FOUAD OF CRAFTS­MAN­SHIP CO-OP POTERIE DE FES TRANS­LA­TION HAS­SAN IDFATH AND SALLY CA­HA­LAN (SOUK & CO) PHO­TOS CON­TRIB­UTED BY SOUK & CO COUN­TRY MOROCCO

Souk & Co take us be­hind the scenes to meet ce­ramic tile artisans in the ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful city of Fes.

THE ARTISANSHIP OF MOROC­CAN TILE MO­SAIC – ZEL­LIJ OR ZELIGE (MEAN­ING LIT­TLE POL­ISHED STONES OR TILES IN ARA­BIC) – IS A MEET­ING OF MATH­E­MAT­I­CAL PRE­CI­SION AND CRE­ATIVE SKILL. TO­DAY THE AGE-OLD TRA­DI­TION WHICH HAS BEEN PRAC­TISED SINCE RO­MAN AND BYZAN­TINE TIMES IS NOT JUST ALIVE AND WELL, BUT FLOUR­ISH­ING IN FES.

CE­RAMIC TILE MO­SAIC IS AN IN­CRED­I­BLY INTRICATE AND SIG­NIF­I­CANT STYLE OF ART­WORK IN MOROCCO. CAN YOU DE­SCRIBE THE CUL­TURAL TRA­DI­TION BE­HIND THE ART FORM AND WHERE THE TRA­DI­TION STARTED?

The art form you come across in Morocco is re­ferred to as His­panoMoor­ish de­sign. It orig­i­nated in Mus­lim Spain, where an in­ter­change of Visig­othic, Ro­man and Tu­nisian in­flu­ences were very in­flu­en­tial in the de­vel­op­ment of this style of ar­chi­tec­ture.

The dif­fer­ent dy­nas­ties that ruled Morocco im­ported artisans from An­dalu­cia in the 11th and 12th cen­turies, bring­ing with them the tra­di­tion of zel­lij mak­ing.

It is still preva­lent, not just in build­ings of wor­ship like mosques, but also in pri­vate homes (ri­ads) in­side the med­i­nas (an­cient Ara­bic cities).

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR MAK­ING THE IN­DI­VID­UAL CE­RAMIC TILES, WHICH ARE THEN PLACED TO­GETHER INTO LARGER MO­SAIC PIECES?

The process starts with the pro­duc­tion of a sim­ple tile – in­di­vid­u­ally hand­made and hand-cut – us­ing the beau­ti­ful nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring lo­cal

clay. Af­ter be­ing fired, each tile is glazed on one side. Once these coloured tiles are pro­duced, a spe­cific geo­met­ric pat­tern is drawn and then man­u­ally cut us­ing a very sharp ham­mer. The edges are then bev­elled with a smaller ham­mer.

Each lit­tle shaped tile is then metic­u­lously placed to­gether (up­side down) to form the over­all geo­met­ric pat­tern, be­fore be­ing grouted to form a solid sin­gle de­sign piece.

HOW LONG DOES THE PROCESS TAKE AND HOW MANY DIF­FER­ENT ARTISANS DOES IT IN­VOLVE FROM START TO FIN­ISH?

Zel­lij mak­ing re­quires work­ing in groups, with each group of artisans spe­cial­is­ing in a par­tic­u­lar skill. One group is skilled in draw­ing de­signs; oth­ers chisel the mo­saic tiles into shapes us­ing a sharp adze, be­fore the pieces are per­fectly as­sem­bled by a mas­ter ar­ti­san to form beau­ti­ful de­signs for ta­bles or foun­tains etc. Be­ing en­tirely hand crafted it may take a cou­ple of weeks to pro­duce just one table top.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PART­NER­SHIP WITH SOUK & CO?

We have a won­der­ful part­ner­ship with Souk & Co. We en­joy wel­com­ing clients of Souk & Co, whether it be on one of their hosted tours or on a trip that they’ve cus­tom de­signed. We take plea­sure in show­ing them the full process of tile and ce­ramic crafts­man­ship by our artisans first­hand, in the age-old tra­di­tion that has been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

We also work closely with Souk & Co. to pro­duce cus­tom de­signed tiles and ceram­ics by our artisans for their clients world­wide. These have ranged from tra­di­tional to con­tem­po­rary de­signs.

HOW SYM­BOLIC IS COLOUR AND GEO­MET­RIC SHAPE TO THE FI­NAL MO­SAIC DE­SIGN?

Tra­di­tional ex­am­ples of zel­lij hold great sym­bol­ism, largely de­rived from Is­lam. Very early forms of zel­lij (around the 10th cen­tury) were prob­a­bly in­spired by Ro­man and Byzan­tine mo­saics, and as such were white and tones of brown. The art of mo­saics flour­ished in Morocco es­pe­cially dur­ing the reign of the Merinid dy­nasty in the 13th and

14th cen­turies, and is char­ac­terised by the promi­nent colours of white, black, blue, green, red and blue, all of which hold sig­nif­i­cance and sym­bol­ism in Is­lam.

Any form of Is­lamic art re­frains from de­pict­ing an­i­mals and hu­mans. In­stead the artisans use a com­bi­na­tion of flo­rals, cal­lig­ra­phy and geo­met­ric pat­terns, which is widely ev­i­dent through­out Moroc­can de­sign.

Geo­met­ric de­signs come in many shapes and have dif­fer­ent names in Ara­bic such as:

murabaat (square)

mutha­lathat (tri­an­gle)

saft (hexagon)

hi­lal (cres­cent)

kha­tim (eight-pointed star)

dirham (square on edge) ma­j­mat (rec­tan­gu­lar)

qandil (lantern – a star with an elon­gated top)

DOES THE SKILL TRA­DI­TION­ALLY STAY WITHIN THE ONE FAM­ILY?

The skill of mak­ing ce­ramic tiles is usu­ally handed down from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other, tra­di­tion­ally from fa­ther to son. This kind of job was a male pre­serve and has been in ex­is­tence for cen­turies. Now the Moroc­can state sets up

ap­pren­tice­ship cen­tres where both boys and girls learn this craft. It in­volves lengthy train­ing, mas­ter­ing ex­cep­tional skills in crafts­man­ship as well as math­e­mat­ics and ge­om­e­try, and re­quires enor­mous pre­ci­sion and pa­tience.

WHAT TRA­DI­TIONAL TOOLS ARE USED AND HAS THIS BEEN MODERNISED WITH TECH­NOL­OGY?

What is strik­ing when we see these mas­ter artisans at work in their work­shops is the con­trast be­tween the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the art­work and the rudi­men­tary tools used.

These tools in­clude the adze (called

men­qash in Ara­bic) used to trim the zel­lij tiles into dif­fer­ent shapes, horse hair to paint the pot­tery, and olive pits to bake the tiles.

It is all a ques­tion of know-how. This art form has ex­isted as it is for cen­turies with­out the in­ter­fer­ence of new ma­te­ri­als and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. Ac­tu­ally, the crafts­man does not need much… clay, his arms, a board, legs, an oven, min­eral dye and the sun.

Zel­lij is a craft which could not be done with ma­chines, be­cause of the pre­cise com­bi­na­tions of the small, in­di­vid­u­ally-shaped pieces of tile which can be com­bined to pro­vide a va­ri­ety of end­less de­signs.

WHERE DOES YOUR DE­SIGN IN­FLU­ENCE COME FROM?

The de­signs may have a re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance like:

Hi­lal (the cres­cent) – the Mus­lim cal­en­dar be­ing a lu­nar cal­en­dar.

Kha­tim (the eight-pointed star) – the seal of the Prophet Salomon.

De­signs may also come from flo­rals or make use of Ara­bic script.

CAN YOU REC­OM­MEND A ZILLIJ FOR TRAV­ELLERS TO VISIT IN MOROCCO?

Some truly beau­ti­ful and awein­spir­ing ex­am­ples of zel­lij and Moroc­can de­sign can be found in the Me­dras­sas At­tarine or Boua­na­nia in Fes, as well as Ben Youssef Madrassa in Mar­rakech. The strik­ing Has­san II Mosque in Casablanca has been metic­u­lously de­signed and built us­ing a huge ar­ray of ar­ti­sanal skills, in­clud­ing zel­lij.

These mes­meris­ing ex­am­ples of zel­lij are al­ways in­cluded on any Souk & Co. jour­ney, as well as end­less other places that are adorned with these beau­ti­ful tiled pat­terns (in­clud­ing bou­tique riad ho­tels and tiled court­yards)

SOUK & CO, HAVE YOU GOT A LO­CAL’S TIP FOR VISI­TORS TO MOROCCO?

Morocco is such an amazingly di­verse coun­try, so abun­dant in his­tory, de­sign, cul­ture and colour. To truly im­merse your­self in this fab­u­lous king­dom, there’s no one bet­ter than a li­cenced, ex­pe­ri­enced guide who can un­lock hid­den trea­sures that you’d never find on your own (es­pe­cially in an­cient Fes)! It’s also a great way to meet some warm and hos­pitable lo­cals!

COULD WE GET A FI­NAL IN­SPI­RA­TIONAL QUOTE?

I was cap­ti­vated by the mag­i­cally ex­otic Morocco from the first in­stant. Im­mers­ing my­self in this an­cient land rich in tra­di­tion, in­cred­i­ble de­sign and colour, and warm, hos­pitable lo­cals con­stantly en­livens my senses. Souk & Co. al­lows me to share my pas­sion for this in­cred­i­ble king­dom and its an­cient tra­di­tions. (Sally Ca­ha­lan)

LEFT TO RIGHT Che­fchaouen, Morocco; Sally Ca­ha­lan (sec­ond from left) with Fouad and his fam­ily.

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE Madrassa Al-At­tarine, Fes. CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Moroc­can Tan­nery; Mar­rakech, Morocco.

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