The Amazing Art of Moroccan Zellige Mosaic Tile
One of Morocco's most time-honored arts, the intricate pattern mosaic tiles known as Zellige (or sometimes Zelig or Zelij), can be seen all over Morocco. Zellige are clay tiles with enameled surfaces, cut into geometric shapes and arranged in dazzling patterns that delight the eye.
Zellige first appeared in Morocco in the 10th century as simple brown and white tiles. In the 12th century, under the Berber Almohad dynasty, zellige started evolving in use, and in the 14th century under the Marinid dynasty, blue, green and yellow patterns started appearing in buildings. Surprisingly, red zellige had to wait another three centuries before making its first appearance.
To make zellige, natural clay is soaked in water for one day, then kneaded and cleaned to be sure it is free of debris. It is then pressed into iron or wooden square moulds, which are then dried in the sun and fired in the oven. After the initial firing, a color glaze is applied, and the tiles are fired for a second time in the kiln. The kiln is called a faytour, an oven heated to 900 degrees Celsius by burning the residue left from olives after they have been pressed for oil.
Once the tiles have fully cooled, a master craftsman known as a zlaygi carefully breaks the pieces and chisels them into their final desired geometric shape using a sharpened hammer. These small colorful pieces are then combined into various mosaic patterns, typically geometric, floral, or arabesque.
The mosaic tiles are commonly used to create spectacular Moroccan mosaic tile tables or Moroccan fountains for garden, courtyard, or home. They also can be used to create decorative backsplashes, and throughout homes, riads, madrasas and palaces on walls and floors.
A Moroccan table or fountain is a great way to incorporate a dynamic Moroccan style flair to your home, but for those on a more modest budget, a small set of Moroccan tiles or a large strip of zellige makes a big impact.
Moroccan zellige is not only extremely beautiful, but it is also quite durable and easy to clean. While it is recommended not to leave your Moroccan fountain or table uncovered in frost or snow, they take little maintenance and will give you years of delight and enjoyment.
The patterns found in zellige are often symbolic, and the creation of zellige is a craft often passed from father to son. While some may look similar, each one is unique and made with just the memory of the pattern. There are no computers involved in creating fancy fractals -- it is completely organic artistry. Some zellige can be so intricate that they are truly mesmerizing, and it is difficult to look away.
Sahara Silver's zellige tables, fountains and tiles are made in select cooperatives outside the main city of Fes, Morocco. Cooperatives in Morocco function as artist's guilds, where artists join together to increase their selling power and voice, share in the work and profits, and provide sustainable income for artisans and their families. With our direct communication with cooperatives, we can create any type of zellige imaginable, in the color and size of your choice.