IN THE MAKING
The medina of Fez, this city where I come from, this city filled with history,
which fascinates me so much by its architecture, its craftsmanship and its culture.
I walk through its many streets and I am carried away in the past.
I smell many smells emanating from the ovens, markets and workshops.
I let a donkey pass, I take a tour of the tanneries, in the foundouks,
I push open the doors of all these riads and small palaces with architecture that takes my breath away.
Jewels testifying to the know-how and the richness of the Moroccan heritage.
I remain amazed in front of these sculpted plaster columns,
in front of these wooden ceilings and in front of these courtyards covered with a thousand small zelliges.
I would like to share with you part of this wonderful story.
I would like to show you the traditional technique of zellige artisans,
to show you with what precision they manufacture your decorations,
piece by piece, thanks to their unique know-how and the magic of their hands.
Where does the zellige come from?
The zellige is a traditional art of Morocco. It belongs to the family of traditional Mediterranean ceramics. It is an ancestral art that dates from the twelfth century and is passed on from generation to generation.
The basis of zellige, and the creation of tesserae, is made from clay. The quality of this raw material will directly impact the result of our zellige. That is why we select products from the region of Fez.
The clay quarries north of the city allow us to extract a white clay with porous properties that give the zellige a great strength and mechanical properties suitable for the hammering.
The zellige of Fez
If we work with artisans of Fez, it is not by chance. Not only does the quality of the raw materials make it a quality zellige, but the craftsmen are recognized for their great expertise.
Much more than a cultural identity, it is a real know-how. And this age-old profession truly anchored in the city of Fez, is a real heritage. The zellige of Fez has been registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization on behalf of Morocco. Its classification by UNESCO as a world intangible heritage would be a real consecration.
For its part, the Ministry of Crafts of Morocco has created the label "Zellige of Fez". This recognition demonstrates the quality of this art, but also of the products resulting from this craft. And we are proud to work with these men and women, to perpetuate this tradition and offer you all the richness of the Moroccan mosaic.
The stages of the manufacture of zellige
The manufacture of zellige is an ancestral art, which is still carried out in a traditional way.
The first major step is the preparation of the clay. Renowned for its strength and fineness, the clay of Fez has a unique technical quality.
The clay blocks are then crushed and moistened, directly in the workshop. The clay is kneaded with water and then spread out in the sun to dry. It is then calibrated and squared.
Then comes the second step, the cooking. This last one will be realized in two phases. The first cooking will be done with palm leaves, branches of pink laurel and white thistle. This is what will obtain the natural zellige, with a raw color.
The third step, the enameling, will then allow to work these natural zelliges to give them their varnish. First, a first mixture of tin oxide is applied to one side of the tile. This first base will allow to opacify the tile, before applying the color varnish.
Various pigments will then be used to define the color of zellige. Calcine (khfîf) and silica sand will offer a white enamel, limonite, yellowish tints, smalt powder (brâya, 'elja), bluish tints while manganese (moghnâsîya kahla) will play on a panel of colors ranging from brown to black, until purple tones.
Thus varnished, the tiles undergo a second firing. In the case of natural zelliges, this cooking is not necessary. Using a traditional wood oven, it is during this phase that the zelliges will find all their uniqueness. The intensity of heat and the placement of the tiles in the oven will directly impact the color shades on each tile. This is how the zellige becomes unique and a piece of art.
Finally, the sound of hammering can be heard, like music giving rhythm to the cutting of Moroccan tiles. In the workshops, the maâlems then give life to the tesserae, with the greatest of finesse. From hand to hand, and an expert gesture, the zellige is born. The craftsman will give it various forms, scales, diamonds, triangles, hexagons or vine leaves.
According to the tradition of the city of Fez, known for the quality of its zellige, the tiles are fired and glazed in the format 11 x 11cm. They are then cut in different formats and reassembled to give life to various patterns.
Unlike the industrial zellige, the real Moroccan zellige has beveled edges by hand. This allows in particular a pose edge to edge. The result is even more majestic, offering bewitching mosaics and a firework of colors.
But also the bejmat
Another technique, the bejmat, is also used to make Moroccan tiles. It is a matrix of 5 x 15 cm, enamelled or natural. Because of its uncut aspect, the bejmat should be laid with a fine joint of 1 to 2 mm.
With a greater resistance compared to zellige, bejmat is very often used for a floor. It is often found in bathrooms, but also in other rooms of the house.
It offers many possibilities of layout, for classic patterns, but also more contemporary. Compared to porcelain stoneware tiles or parquet, bejmat creates a real dynamic with an inimitable design.