Moroccan Pottery & Ceramics History
The Moroccan pottery industry was inherited by the people of the Zagora region from grandfather to father as a craft from which they earn their livelihood, but they added a special character to it distinguished by dyeing pots green. It is still practiced with the same old techniques, except for some minor developments.
During the reign of Sultan Sheikh Omar bin Ahmed Al-Ansari, the Nasri corner was established in the city of Zagora in 1983, and it includes a library rich in publications that works to spread knowledge and science in the neighboring African countries. On the outskirts of Zagora, see one of the traditional industries that preserves the place's historical roots, and adds to it a distinctive creativity, represented by pottery and ceramics.
When you step foot in Tamegroute, you will not miss the “workshops”, which are small houses stacked next to each other, inside each of which is a room with a screw on top of which pots are made (a makeshift pottery wheel, powered by a foot pedal), in addition to an internal room in which new-made utensils are placed until they hold together, and then continue making them later.
Abd al-Salam Basu, a traditional pottery maker, explained to us the stages of pottery making from the beginning to the acquisition of that green vessel. Basu says that the raw material for pottery in the city of “Tamegroute” is dirt called “taligit”. It is extracted from a depth of three to four meters in the banks of the Draa Valley (the largest river that penetrates the Moroccan south), then it is brought to the workshop and placed in a hole and then flooded with water. After 24 hours, the dirt will have dissolved and mixed with water, according to Basu, so it is extracted and placed on the ground for a few hours. Then it is collected in the form of a pile and covered with large plastic caps in order to preserve its viscosity. We saw how one of Basu's assistants prepared the dough that the maker will turn into clay vessels. Khaled Lakhdar, a young man who exceeded his second decade by years, uncovered a plastic cover and took a pile of clay (Taligat), and placed it on a mat made of palm fronds and proceeded to rub it with his hand as he massaged the dough.
Basu continues his explanation, as he turns a screw on which he makes vessels, “After rubbing the clay, the stage of manufacture comes,” adding that the pots after making them are placed in the shade for 24 hours, before returning to the screw and completing its manufacture and cutting off the excess ends and impurities. After the vessels have taken their final shape, they are placed under the sun for three days before being glazed green or red. Abd al-Rahman al-Nasiri, a traditional pottery maker, says, “We use three primary materials for dyeing, which are natural copper in the clay and manganese, and then another mineral called the “dead room” in the region. These three materials are hammered separately, according to Al-Nasiri, and then mixed. Mixing manganese and “dead room” gives the red color, while mixing manganese with copper clay gives the pots a green color. Dyeing materials are mixed with water in a bowl, Al-Nasiri says, and then dyed with the pots, but they do not take their final color until after they leave the oven.
The oven, says Najem Lakhdar, a traditional pottery maker, is a two-layer structure. A lower layer in which a fire of fuel is ignited by palm wood and some thorns that grow in the oasis, and an upper layer in which pottery vessels are placed and the flames reach through holes. The lower layer has an opening through which firewood can enter, and the upper layer has an opening for inserting pots. After inserting the pots, Lakhdar explains, the mouth of the upper oven is closed with mud and the lower layer is set on fire for three hours, after which the mouth is closed as well. The traditional furnaces, capable of holding 800 units, are heated with palm branches and dry hashish. The oven needs to be filled for a full day by isolating the units to not stick. After closing the doors wisely with stones and clay, the cooking process lasts four hours and the oven is left for twenty-four hours to cool down, before opening it and extracting the pots. After a night of cooling down, the porcelain, with its lovely green and uneven colors, is ready.
Tamegroute experienced a commercial boom since the era of the Saadia dynasty (1554-1659 AD), as it served as a rest stop for the convoys coming from Marrakesh to the “Timbuktu” region of the state of Mali. An atmosphere of coexistence prevails in its surroundings, conducive to creativity in a small and traditional town. The potters are the ones who extract clay from mines and prepare the mixture with their feet.
The art of pottery and ceramics is one of the oldest arts known to man, and the art of ceramics in all its forms is one of the most famous and loved arts, especially as it consists mainly of clay, which is the closest thing to man, and it is one of the arts that makes people feel comfortable, joyful and positive energy. The ceramics industry has developed in a wonderful and amazing way through the ages, some of which are coated with bright glass colors and metallic oxides, the most famous of which is porcelain coated with metallic luster that resembles the color of gold and silver.
The ceramics industry, which was previously simple, functional and modest, is now practiced according to a new trend in decor combining traditional skill with modern collections and colors. The Moroccan ceramics industry is divided into two main types: urban ceramics, most of which are made in cities: Safi, Sala and Fez; and rural ceramics, one type in the north and the other in the south in Tamegroute. It is one of the oldest professions in human history. Ceramics has taken on a special identity in Morocco that made it the heart of the traditional industry, which reflects beauty and is linked to nature. The absence and scarcity of educated people makes the craft an area of importance with every sheikh who visits Tamegroute, they strive to keep the Moroccan traditional industry present in the market, as the art of ceramics is an art form that combines the ancient Moroccan traditional culture and modern arts. Not only practical, but also fun-to-watch.
Article by Abderrahim El Haddad of Amazraou, Morocco.