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ZELLIJ - THE PORTAL TO MOROCCO’S SPIRITUAL ORIGINS

Zellij is a Moorish artisan form of art deeply steeped in Moroccan history and present in Islamic art, architecture and craft in the regions...

Zellij is a Moorish artisan form of art deeply steeped in Moroccan history and present in Islamic art, architecture and craft in the regions of North Africa and Spain. These colourful tiles made of clay are precisely chiselled by the worn hands of skilled craftsmen to form a melange of geometric shapes, and then delicately pieced together on a plaster base to create a tessellated pattern of infinite inspiration. With each tile that is interlaced and arranged in intricate combinations, a tapestry is woven and the mind and heart immediately go into a trance, blinded by its endlessness.

The word zellij comes from the root Arabic word زَلَجَ, meaning “to slide”, referring to the smooth glazed surface of the tiles. Amazingly, at times, the intended shape is not created simply by chipping away at the clay bricks to form it, but instead by chiseling other precise shapes that when fit together, form the shape so desired (image required for illustration purposes). There are an infinite number of combinations of geometric shapes, many of which have been memorised by heart by the craftsmen who have been continuing and preserving this trade for centuries. Squares, triangles, diamonds, stars, polygons and crosses are made to fit perfectly and precisely to form orderly mosaic patterns. However ornamental in nature, zellij stresses the importance of unity, order and logic, which not-so-coincidentally are key teachings of Islam.