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Learn about Moroccan culture through our skilled artisans and traditional handicrafts

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Moroccan art reflects the country's stunning vistas, vibrant colors, and astounding variety. Moroccan crafts are as unique and diverse as the nation itself. Traditional artists still use small workshops and neighborhood cooperatives to conduct their business.


The ancient skills of Moroccan artisans, who combine Arab, Berber, Jewish, and Andalusian traditions, have been acclaimed for ages. Every Moroccan medina has stores selling rugs, jewelry, wood furniture, textiles, and spices. Moroccan artisans have been renowned for producing high-quality leather goods, carpets, shoes, and even spices for generations.


All around the nation, there are genuine handcrafted gems. There are numerous workshops throughout Morocco's renowned bazaars, souqs, and legendary medinas that are worth visiting.

Morocco's handicrafts are rich in symbolism and history. The country's artisans have been perfecting their craft for centuries, and each piece is imbued with meaning. Every handicraft tells a story, from the intricate patterns of Moroccan tiles to the colorful Berber rugs.


Purposeful symbolism through the design of Moroccan handicrafts


Symbolism is important in Moroccan culture and is reflected in our handicrafts. Every design has a specific meaning, and each color is chosen for a reason. Even the way a piece is made can be symbolic. For example, Moroccan pottery is often painted with a spiral pattern. This symbolizes the journey of the soul from birth to death.


The symbolism of Moroccan handicrafts is a window into the country's culture and history. By understanding the meaning behind these pieces, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the artisans who create them.


Traditional ceramics of Morocco: Zellige tilework and pottery


Morocco's most well-known handicrafts are considered to have their epicenter in Fes. From the fine craftsmanship of leather, copper, and embroidered items to ceramic crafts like ceramics and "zellige" (handmade Moroccan tile).


You will explore each specialty in its souk in the Fes Medina. Continue to Ain Nokbi, close to the southern ramparts and just outside of Fes' medina, and stop by the pottery district. Numerous pottery cooperatives operate there, showcasing Moroccan ceramics through workshops, apprenticeship programs, and retail establishments for finished goods.


On your tour of Fes with Journey Morocco, you will learn the complete zellige and Moroccan pottery-making process. Participate in a Fassi Pottery session to learn about the pottery's sophisticated and recognizable blue-and-white geometric patterns. Fes is the source of Morocco's most valuable ceramics.


Fassi stoneware uses an an ancient Moroccan technique to form and dry


While earthenware is the most typical clay form, Fassi pottery is made from fine, light-colored stoneware clay. In Ain Nokbi, pottery is only made using the oldest techniques. Fassi pottery is shaped by hand, the pottery wheel is entirely controlled by foot rotation, and the shape is removed using a fine thread or piece of wire. Once it has taken on the correct form, it is left to dry in the sun.


Moroccan artisans use fine horsehair brushes to paint geometric patterns on the ceramics. Despite coming in various colors, the cobalt blue and white marks on the most traditional Fassi ceramics make it simple to identify. Fes-made pottery is still fired in old-fashioned kilns that primarily burn ground olive pits, a Moroccan olive oil industry byproduct. Olive pits are a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative fuel source that allows for a hot but "clean" burn.


Zellage: the art of Moroccan tile


Moroccan zellige first appeared in the 10th century and developed throughout the Merenid Dynasty, influenced by Roman and Byzantine mosaics.


The zellige tilework used to depict richness and elegance in the mansions of affluent art patrons continues to be a defining feature of Moroccan architecture and design.


Where to find zellige tilework in Morocco


Zellige craftsmanship can be found adorning floors, walls, columns, staircases, fountains, hammams, and swimming pools throughout Morocco. You can find it everywhere; it is particularly prominent in historical locations such as Dar Batha in Fes, Bahia Palace in Marrakech, and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in Meknes.


It is also found in more contemporary buildings like riads and restaurants. The Hassan II mosque in Casablanca features zellige as a fundamental component of its design.


How is zellige tile created?


Using the same fine stoneware clay as for Fassi pottery by tiles, the square tiles are molded and calibrated as the initial stage in any Moroccan mosaic tilework.


Then, a single color is applied to each zellige square and fired at a particular temperature for each shade. The zellige tiles can be hand-shaped and cut to size after they have been fired and cooled.


Shapes are carved out of hard tiles rather than molded into the necessary shapes before being burned. This is a distinctive feature of Moroccan tiles and a brilliant illustration of Moroccan craftsmanship. Most of the time, apprentices are the ones who "cut" zellige tiles by swiftly tracing a model piece of zellige onto the tile, then chipping away the excess.


Chiseling zellige tike into its final form


The individual pieces of zellige must be carefully and steadily chiseled away; the tool's size and weight are out of proportion to the tile's breadth and, ultimately, to the delicate nature of each tiny shape that results. Each artisan will cut their unique shape from the tile, from which the skilled artisans will eventually fashion their masterpieces.


Moroccan tilework is constructed face-down for free-standing objects, like tabletops or fountains. The Moroccan craftsman takes each design element apart and "glues" them together. In this instance, the "glue" is actually "Black soap," another by-product of the Moroccan olive oil industry, also known by its French names, "savon black" or "savon bildi." Once every zellige is in position, cement is applied to the back, and once it has dried, the sculpture is turned over to reveal its beauty.


Not only are Moroccan zellige tiles durable, but they are also oil- and water-resistant. In addition to the more conventional uses of zellige as wall coverings or floor work, this makes them a suitable material for both indoor and outdoor applications, such as tiled tabletops, plunge pools, stairway steps, fountains, and fireplaces. You cannot help but be in awe of the magnificence and complexity of Moroccan design once you witness the steps involved in the traditional Moroccan craft of zellige.


Hand-painted, hand-fired Moroccan ceramics and pottery


Moroccan pottery can vary significantly from region to region, although only a few places have significantly impacted the ceramics industry. Perhaps the most famous ceramic city is Safi, which has sizable markets for its sale and a range of stores and designs.


Safi also provides a more laid-back shopping experience, and because the pottery is made there, you frequently deal with the folks who crafted the plate you're holding. Tamegroute, outside of Zagora, is renowned for its distinctive green-glazed ceramics.


Wood-carving in Morocco


When it comes to the art of wood-carving, Essaouira genuinely shines. Even though wood carvers work all across Morocco, there is something special to be said about the twuia wood, which is only found there. Locals have been using it effectively for ages. Few visitors leave without at least a tiny souvenir to remind them of the laid-back Moroccan sea coast. Sculptors have mastered extracting beauty from the seemingly prosaic, from huge chess boards and dishes to small boxes and children's toys.


Moroccan and Berber rugs


Moroccan rugs are exquisite, distinctive, and beautifully crafted hand-made carpets that have been a part of the country's culture for over five centuries. The demand for handcrafted rugs has increased as the tourism industry has grown.


It prompted other cooperatives to emerge and start making Moroccan rugs, notably for major markets in Fes and Marrakesh. This work of art is typically created by Moroccan Berber women in various designs and styles that reflect each region.



Conclusion


Art, pottery, and tilework are important parts of Morocco's culture because they are traditional forms of expression that have been passed down through generations. These art forms are not only beautiful, but they also tell the story of the Moroccan people and our history.


Art, pottery and tilework are important parts of Moroccan culture for several reasons. First, they are traditional forms of expression that have been passed down for generations. Secondly, they are used to decorate homes and public spaces, adding color and beauty to the everyday. Finally, they are a source of income for many Moroccans, who sell their wares to tourists and locals alike.


Like so much else in Morocco, traveling with an open mind and a healthy dose of curiosity can help you get the most out of your visit to the artists in our medinas. Be ready to take your time and go wherever your fancy takes you!



Travel inspiration photo gallery:

Handicrafts, artwork, pottery, and Zellige tile of Morocco






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