ARCHITECTURE

MOROCCAN “ZELLIGE”- PRODUCTION AND PATTERNS

“PRINCE OF TILES” – II

Zellige, is the famous handmade Moroccan tiles made up of clay or terracotta creating a mosaic form, normally displaying intricate geometric patterns and range of colors. It is the main element of Moroccan architecture and often found on the walls and floors of Moroccan dwellings. It is a representation of finery, delicacy, patience and sophistication. Zellige has been the symbol of royalty and proudly called as – “PRINCE OF TILES”.

Later in our post, “ZELLIGE”- ANCIENT TILES FROM MOROCCO, we talked about Zellige history, its ancient presence and about Zellige artisans – Maallems. Now let’s continue our Moroccan tour and get a closer look on Zellige.

Zellige-Marrakesh

The spirit of Zellige lies in its imperfection. Fast pace machines and modern technology might increase the production but can not achieve the sense of flaw which a hand-chiseled piece inherits. No two Zellige are identical. That’s the beauty of Zellige.

ZELLIGE IS THE SOUL OF MOROCCO

The process of Zellige tile making is still almost 100% hand-made, individually hand-chiseled and never used electrified machinery for mass production. The craftsmen called Maallems, still follow the technique they inherited from their ancestors. Zellige making is an integral part of local people’s life. Their daily chores and special occasions including weddings are planned according to the cycle of Zellige production. It depends upon weather, seasons and temperature.

Zellige marocain in Fez, Morocco.

Zellige adds colors to desert. The geometric patterns perfused with bright colors seems an adornment to the contrasting desert sand. Basic colors like blue, green and yellow were a part of 14th century Zellige which later infused with red in 17th century. 20th century introduced glaze and neutral color tones to Zellige which greatly merge with modern sophisticated design and architecture. This makes Zellige a popular choice for the beautification of interiors, exteriors, pools, fountains, walls, ceilings, floors, tabletops and much more.

CLAYS USED FOR ZELLIGE MAKING

To make traditional handmade Zellige tiles, natural clay is the basic ingredient required. The major supply centres for Zellige clay are Fez, Meknes, Fe, Safi and Salé of Morocco.

  • Fez Clay -The clay from this region is primarily composed of kaolinite. For Fez and Meknes, the clay composition is 2-56% clay minerals, calcite 3-29%.
  • Salé and Safi The clay mineral composition shows the presence of Kaolinite along with illitechloritesmectite and traces of mixed layer illite/chlorite.
  • Meknes – The clays of Meknes belong to illitic clays, characterized by illite (54 – 61%), kaolinite (11 – 43%), smectite (8 – 12%) and chlorite (6 – 19%).
  • Fes Clay shows the presence of abundant clay minerals along with illite (40 – 48%) and kaolinite (18 – 28%). Chlorite and smectite are generally present as small quantities.

The raw clay material that comes from above regions of Morocco, are best for Zellige as they have high content of silica. High silica composition makes Zellige tiles less water absorbent and keeps the sheen, shine and glaze of tile vibrant and glowing for several decades.

Wooden box inlaid with ivory with zellīj-like geometrical motifs. Italy (Florence or Venice) 15th century.

COMMON FORMS AND ZELLIGE PATTERNS

FORMS

There can be ENDLESS possible combinations or forms of Zellige because of the huge color palette available to the craftsmen. The color palette has greatly evolved during the past centuries and created a full array of complex shapes, patterns and combinations found in Zellige tilework.

Forms may include squares, octagons, stars, crosses, cabochon, ellipses, triangles, rectangles, hexagon, rhombus etc. The most common form is a square. Squares made up of clays with 2 cm of thickness and approximately 10×10 cm of length and breadth are combined to form patterns, either individually or with cabochon.

Zellij fragment from Tilemsan, Algeria, from the 14th century.

PATTERNS

1. TESSERAE – A tessera or abaciscus is an individual tile, usually formed in the shape of a cube, used in creating a mosaic. Hand-cut tesserae, or furmah is often found in zillij work.

2. Star-based patterns – They are divided on the basis of their number of points—

  • Itnashari for 12
  • Ishrini for 20
  • Arba’ Wa ‘Ishrini for 24
  • Khamsini, for 50 points
  • Mi’ini for 100 points and so on.
An eight sided star tile after being cut from a tile, a mainstay of Moorish/Islamic design

3. non-star patterns – Honeycombs, webs, steps and shoulders, and checkerboards.

4. KUFIC SCRIPTIt is a style of Arabic script which is characterized by angular and rectilinear letterforms and its horizontal orientation. There are many different versions of Kufic script, such as square Kufic, floriated Kufic, knotted Kufic.

5. RUB EL HIZB – The Rub-el-Hizb is an Islamic symbol which is also known as the Islamic Star. It is in the shape of an octagram, represented as two overlapping squares. Zellige patterns with kufic script fits well with the geometry of mosaic tiles where the patterns often culminate centrally in the Rub El Hizb.

Rub el Hizb

1 thought on “MOROCCAN “ZELLIGE”- PRODUCTION AND PATTERNS”

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