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Mosaics of Marrakesh

I've just got back from magical Morocco. These are some of the spectacular tiles I saw over two days in Marrakesh. They are mostly what are known as zelliges, mosaics in geometric patterns which were widely popular in the Islamic world from the 14th century onwards. The name, zellige or zellij, derives from the arabic verb 'to slide', a reference to the tiles' beautiful slippery glazes. I had always imagined that the individual pieces were made in moulds, but in fact each piece is hand-cut to shape using a double-ended hammer. The desired geometric shape is incised onto glazed terracotta approximately 2cm thick, and the piece is balanced on a little ledge and chopped at with the hammer. The artisan turns the piece deftly between cuts, lining up for his next cut (it always is a him) - there is a very short video further down this post showing how it's done. The ledge fulfils some of the parts played by a mosaic hardie, but it doesn't have a sharp edge. It's an extraordinary thought that every single facet of these tiles - and there must be literally millions of them on the historic buildings of Marrakech - is the product of a carefully considered and neatly executed cut.

Mosaic doorway in Marrakesh
The Dar el Bacha Palace

Shallow mosaic fountain at the Marrakesh Museum
A shallow basin under a fountain at the Marrakesh Museum

Mosaic panel at the Marrakesh Museum
Detail of the panel shown above (at the Marrakesh Museum)

Mosaic wall in Marrakesh
This and following few shots all taken at the Dar el Bacha Palace

Riad Chambres d'Amis Marrakesh
Riad Chambres d'Amis - highly recommended hotel

Bahia Palace

Restoration work in progress; you can see that each tile is hand-chiselled from a thick piece of glazed terracotta

Double-headed hammer used for chopping zellige tiles into shape, used against a tilted ledge

This 3-minute video shows the skill and speed with which tiles are cut - and how different the technique is from mosaic-making with a hammer and hardie.

© SaintTropezBoutique

Local cat crew - they partied every night outside our hotel window

Jardin Majorelle
Yves Saint-Laurent's cactus garden at Villa Majorelle - the garden was laid out in the 1920s by French artist, Jacques Majorelle

garden Marrakesh
The Secret Garden, Marrakesh

Zellige and feathery planting complement each other in the Secret Garden

The exotic courtyard at the Secret Garden
Mosaics in Marrakesh
Dar el Bacha Palace

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