If someone mentions Moroccan architecture, you probably picture giant domes, looming archways, and intricate tile mosaics. This tile work, known as zellige, has been a key factor in the architecture of the area for a long time and it really hasn’t changed that much. While a few new colors have been introduced over the past few hundred years, the construction of the tiles themselves is still a time consuming and labor intensive process that has gone largely unchanged for millennia.
While the tiles appear to be fairly simple shapes, you can see that creating them requires incredible skill only attained through years of practice. Training to be a master tile maker, or maâlem, often begins during childhood and is passed down from generation to generation.
The process for making tiles goes like this:
- First the ceramic blank is made. Clay is beaten into shape, and cut down to a standard size while wet
- The blanks are dipped in enamel of varying colors, then fired in a massive kiln (look how they’re stacked for firing!)
- Shapes are traced on the blanks, then chiseled out by hand with extreme precision.
- Geometric patterns are created by laying the tiles face-down inside a form.
- A final clay layer is applied to hold everything together.
Zellige is recognizable by its simple colors and geometric patterns. This differentiates these mosaics from those you might see from other geographical areas. Often mosaics, like any other form of art would depict people or animals. Zellige does not depict living things, as its roots come from Islamic law, which forbids the drawing or recreation of living beings. This doesn’t stop it from being incredibly beautiful though, as you can see in the videos above.