Zellige (also spelled as zellig and zellij), Moroccan tiles made especially for walls are derived from Byzantine and Roman mosaics and are Morocco’s great specialty.
Arabesque and Moroccan ceramic mosaic tiles are perhaps the most colorful tiles in the world. Traditionally, they were used as a decoration for walls, staircases, archways, and columns. Today they are used in tables, fireplaces, chairs, and even picture frames. Foreign designers who fell in love with Morocco’s interior design made their own corrections and additions to the art of Moroccan tile work. They added their own colors and used them in their own surprising ways making zelliges even more attractive to Westerners.
Making Moroccan Tiles
The center of Moroccan tile production is Fes (also spelled as Fez). The process of making Moroccan ceramic mosaic tile is rather complicated and requires several professionals, each specializing in a certain production stage. First the clay is mixed with water and left to stabilize for 24 hours. Next day, after the mixture was purified from foreign elements, the clay is molded into rectangular slabs and left to dry in the sun. Later the glazes of different colors are applied on the slabs and the tiles are fired.
The most interesting starts after the tiles were fired. A designer takes a bamboo stick dipped in ink and traces the outline to cut of the tile slab. After that tile cutter cuts out the zellige design out of the tile slab using a hammer sharpened on both sides. This is a very delicate work, similar to jewelry making. Finally, the tiles are sorted by shape, size, and color and taken to the work site where it is laid into patterns.
The most common patterns are called hen’s feet, divided tear, and heifer’s eyes. Lately there were many new introductions made by modern native and foreign designers, however Moroccan tile patterns should always conform to traditional geometric grid. This means that originality of arabesque and Moroccan tiles is mainly in color combinations as well as style with which they were laid into patterns.