Zelij: The art of Moroccan tiles

In the old, walled Moroccan city of Fes, you never have to look far to find examples of the traditional tile art of zelij. Gateways, mosques, courtyards in private homes, public fountains and the walls of Islamic schools are all decorated with these glazed cut tiles.

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The great blue gate of Bab Boujloud is covered in intricately carved midnight blue tiles, framing a dramatic entranceway into the medina.

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Here, zelij on the walls of Medersa Bou Inania (an Islamic school) features panels of Qur’anic calligraphy andĀ complicated interlocking geometric patterns.

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Zelij marks the moment you step off the dusty cobbled main street of Tala’a Kbira, and into the calm of the medersa.

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Sahrij Medersa (in the Andalusian quarter of the city), was built in 1321. Now, after centuries of foot traffic, many of its tiles are worn bare.

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Zelij often has a limited, striking colour palette, in this case: black, white, dark green and mustard yellow, with the natural colour of the fired clay showing through where the calligraphy has been carved out.

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Patterns vary from simple checks to highly complicated combinations of geometric shapes and Arabic calligraphy.

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Fes is also famous for it’s many public water fountains which are often completely covered in tiles.

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I love this brass tap!

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Less traditional, but graphically eye-catching was this bright pink plastic cup against the tilework.

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Public fountains also often have built-in seating where old men gather to gossip and watch the world go by. I love the colours of this cushion against the simple tile pattern.

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Donkeys tomorrow…!

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6 Responses to Zelij: The art of Moroccan tiles

  1. Fleur says:

    Each time i look at these tiles my heart skips a beat. How can anything be so beautiful i ask you? You can feel the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into getting them to the amazing places they are…it’s like they are alive. Fleur x

  2. Alice Fox says:

    These are really beautiful photos. You’ve warmed me up on a bitter winters day!

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Zelij: The art of Moroccan tiles Ā« Lucy Patterson HANDS-ON -- Topsy.com

  4. Dear Lucy, I have just happened across your blog via google and had to stop in and say what a beautiful blog it is! Your photographs are amazing and you have such an eye for colour too. I have long wanted to go to Morocco and seeing your pics hasn’t changed that – love the donkey braying:)

  5. khalid says:

    Dear Lucy, I like your article: Zelij: The art of Moroccan tiles! I am building Atlas Resorts in Morocco, please take a look: http://www.atlasresorts.com

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