“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.
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 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 illite, chlorite, smectite 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.
COMMON FORMS AND ZELLIGE PATTERNS
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.
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.
4. KUFIC SCRIPT – It 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.
PROCESS OF ZELLIGE MAKING
Zellige is an ancient artform practiced with great passion and deep commitment of a Maallem artist (master craftsmen) towards his cultural heritage. The process of Zellige making requires patience and skill that has been transformed from generation to generation. However these days young people learn zellige making at one of the 58 artisan schools in Morocco.
Zellige making is considered an art in itself. The process begins with-
PREPARATION OF TILE
- RAW MATERIAL -The soil for a well crafted Zellige is supplied from Fez and few more regions of Morocco.
- SOIL PREPARATION – The soil is mixed with water and a colorful dye to give tile a vibrant colour.
- MIXING – The Maallem kneads the soil with hands and a heavy hammer to prepare soil for making a tile of the desired size.
- MOULDING – The mix is moulded in sizes around 4” of length and approximately 0.5” in thickness.
- DRYING – The tiles are then placed outside in the natural heat of the sun to dry. Later these are baked in special ovens for making Zellige more firm.
- BAKING – Baking Zellige is important because the color of the tile determines the temperature at which it is baked. Good baking helps Zellige to attain maximum glaze and shine. Once ready, the tiles are removed from the oven and cooled down.
PREPARATION OF MOSAIC
- PREPARATION OF CUTTING – Zellij templates are used to cut the tiles in the desired shapes. The template helps to ensure the shapes remain consistent and to cut as many pieces as possible.
- CUTTING – The cutting process is fully manual. The shapes are hand chiseled by the “cutter”, a person employed to do cutting job. He sit on the floor next to a heap of stones in front of the table made up of iron or a large, firm stone. This serves as a base on which the tile can be cut in sturdy fashion. An experienced cutter with proficient skills can cut up to 400 pieces of Moroccan tile each and every day. A tool known as a Menqach is used to do this job.
- SORTING – Following the cutting process, sharp edges are discarded and the tiles are sorted carefully into storage baskets depending upon their shape and color.
- CREATING MOSAICS -The small shapes are then assembled in a geometrical structure as in a puzzle and cemented at back to form a final piece of mosaic.
DETAILED VIDEO ON MOROCCAN ZELLIGE MAKING
Moroccan Zellij – An amazing craftsmanship
Video by :
Marrakech Guided Tours
IMPORTANCE OF ZELLIGE IN MOROCCAN ARCHITECTURE
Morocco is the beautiful land of deserts, rugged mountainous ranges and an extensive coastline that stretches along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. With beautiful landscaping, the country exhibits distinctive interior and exterior architectural features. The elements are vibrant and eye-catching creating a striking contrast to the arid sand of desert or plain blue ocean water.
Moorish architecture is carefully preserved and celebrated in Morocco. It is a style within Islamic architecture which developed in the western Islamic world, with Muslim inhabitants of these regions designated as “Moors“. Zelige is an integral part of Moorish architecture which eventually became synonyms to Moroccan architecture.
Attractive domes and pretty courtyards, Horseshoe shaped arches, interiors and ceilings all adorned with bright and colorful Zellige, is a common site in Morocco. The Moroccan tile is effortless in its ability to create mesmerizing patterns in the eye of the viewer. They complements the sleek appearance and monotony of limestone, marble and granite. Undoubtedly, Zellij designs light up a room as well as a dull day when you incorporate them in your home aesthetics.
RIGHTLY CALLED – “THE PRINCE OF TILES”
Authentic Zellige is matchless. Cement and hand painted tiles can never be compared to Zellige. It carries within the essence of the civilization, ancient traditions and deeply woven history. This geometric art is a seamless combination of Mediterranean and Islamic cultures imbibing both art and religion in itself.
Zellige is unique because it cannot be classified. It displays a rare combination of art and mathematics. It has Islamic identity, Mediterranean body and geometrical calculation. The most
important for this kind of art is neither how to produce nor assembling, but an embedded geometrical and mathematical understanding approach, which requires years of training to master.
This kind of work should be encouraged by everybody. It cannot be confined to one place or a region. This is global. One must find it comforting to adorn home aesthetics with such handcrafted striking décor where no two pieces are identical. Every single piece is distinctive. Modern Zellige is even more soothing to eye embracing neutral color palette for everyday homes.
MODERN DAY ZELLIGE
The ancient art has took a new form in present century with the incorporation of simple patterns, neutral colors and even monochromatic color schemes. Modern Zellige tilework can be popularly seen in flooring, kitchen backsplash, Bathroom wall tiles, in restaurants and hotels, malls, spas and so on.
Modern exquisite Zellige tiles come in an array of pearlescent colours, metallic, volcanic or opaque finish, warm tones, neutral tones, semi-transparent or plain with subtle depth and reflection. Each tile carrying its own shape it is far more interesting than regular uniform industrial ceramic tiles.
Here is the unique Zellige collection from Houzz.com
ZELLIGE IN KITCHEN BACKSPLASH
See how perfectly this traditional Zellige adapts to our modern day design. Incorporating Zellij tilework in our residential and commercial sites is not only a lifetime investment but also a way of keeping alive this age old ancient craft.
INSPIRATION: The Aesthetic Logic of Zellige
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