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Zellige Tile – A Brief History

12 / 03 / 2019

 

We believe that choosing materials for your remodel is so much more than just the look. It’s also about the story you’re trying to tell. There are plenty of tile options, but few with as much history and influence as zellige tiles.

 

 

 

The method of making zellige tiles is a classic art form from Morocco and Southern Spain. Because of Zellige -A Brief History and artistic significance, the Moroccan government has taken care in preserving the art of zellige tiles and educating the public about its origin. Each tile is made meticulously by hand. It’s obvious when you see the finished product that the process of making zellige tiles is a labor of love.

 

Zellige tiles are crafted from clay found in the city of Fez, Morocco. After a grid is formed, artisans then press the mixture into squares and let it dry out to form slabs. The craftsmen use a shaping block and hammer to smooth the tile and cut it into a more precise shape and size. For more intricate stars and other shapes, the artist etches the design directly into the tile. They use a stencil to trace the pattern and hand carve it into the surface. The artists use exact measurements to assure that the designs are symmetric and properly transfer to the intended surface.

 

Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Okay, it might not be a simple process…but it is super rewarding in the end!

 

 

 

Zellige Around the World

 

Alhambra, Spain

 

In Spain and Portugal, zellige-style tiles are called azulejo. They have similar patterns to Morrocan zellige tiles, but they don’t practice the same process of hand-making the tiles. One of the world’s most famous examples of this tile design is found in the Alhambra Palace. The walls are covered in brightly colored tiles arranged in complex patterns. Many interiors in Andalusia are done in a comparable style. 

 

 

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

 

 

 

The Hassan II Mosque

 

The largest mosque in the world is located in Casablanca. It was completed in 1993 and features numerous zellige designs. The grand courtyard is decorated in warm neutral tones, and the minaret has teal zellige details. At the base of the mosque, there are beautiful floral-patterned tiles. The fountains are also covered in zellige, and the outside facade displays a honeycomb pattern. Talk about an ornate piece of architecture.

 

 

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca Morocco

 

 

 

 

Dar Si Said, Marrakesh

 

This former grand palace is now a museum. You will see examples of zellige tiles both inside and outside the building. The column-based, inset fountains and the top of the walls are decorated with multi-colored zellige tiles. The wealthy commissioner definitely didn’t adhere to the “less is more” mentality, and we couldn’t be more obsessed.

 

Museum of Textiles – Dar Si Said, Marrakesh

 

 

 

 

Madrasa Ben Youssef

 

Also a museum, this breathtaking building once housed more than 900 students. Built in the 16th century, this building wows visitors with its intricate mosaic tiles. Every surface of the courtyard features elaborate decoration. Some historians say that artists were brought in from Andalusia to help complete the building. It features impressive arches and a dome with 24 mosaic windows.

 

Museum at Madrasa Ben Youssef – Former Islamic seminary

 

 

 

 

Palais Soleiman, Marrakesh

 

This palace was turned into a restaurant for the public to enjoy. Unique tilework can be found on the lower interior walls, floors, and pillars. Local artists from the area of Fez and Marrakesh were commissioned to decorate this vibrant building.

 

Le Salon Rouge at the Palais Soleiman, Marrakech

 

 

 

 

 

Bou Inania Madrasa, Meknes

 

Completed in 1358 by Abu Inan Faris, this seminary exemplifies Merenid architecture. The building also has delicate cedar touches and stucco finishes. The courtyard has zellige tile designs to compliment the rich olive wood. It’s so beautiful, it almost makes us want to join the seminary. Almost.

 

Seminary at Bou Inania Madrasa, Meknes

 

 

 

Nejjarine Fountain, Fez

 

This building was commissioned by a wealthy resident in the 17th century. It was primarily used by merchants and traders. The Nejjarine Fountain dates back to the water systems put in place during the Almoravid (1061-1147) and the Almohad era. Although unique in its own right, the city of Fez has over 60 intricately adorned public fountains.

 

Tesselated zellige Nejjarine Fountain in the city of Fez

 

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