ZILLIJ - Moroccan Mosaic Tile
In The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca author Tahir Shah recounts the vast adventure of buying an old mansion in the center of Casablanca, relocating his wife and young children from London to Morocco, and embarking on a vast, difficult and ultimately spiritual renovation of a great house. The pitfalls were great, varied and even comical, but the end result was a completely restored, tranquil environment that benefited from Shah’s dogged insistence that the house be restored to its original, if now virtual, glory.
One of the highlights of the renovation was a fountain covered in tiles. One such tiling style is call zillij, a style and pattern of tiling that originated in the middle of the 11th Century. These tiles were present in multiple cities throughout Morocco and Spain and still can be seen today in Marrakech, Rabat and Seville. Zillij is created by a zlayji, or ceramic mosaicist, one who often comes from a family of mosaicists with the mosaic tradition stretching through five generations or more. To this day, zillij involves a heavy apprenticeship. Each zlayji or ceramicist must learn to hand cut every tile that goes into one of a hundreds of possible mosaic patterns.
Such mosaics are not only found within public buildings. They are considered a delight in the salons of private homes, often decorating the lower half of a series of walls, as well as decoration in open courtyards. In order to complete one square meter of a particular star pattern, as many as five thousand hand cut tiles, called furmah, might be used. The commissions are quoted in terms of square meters, and the prices vary according to the intricacy of the mosaic pattern.
Seeing such mosaics first hand is not as impossible as one might assume. A handful of companies once based in Morocco now have showrooms in New York City, including “The Mosaic House.” Furthermore, author Tahir Shah has opened two rooms in Dar Khalifa, or The Caliph’s House, to visitors. He has had around a dozen guests thus far. You can see images of his lovely house at his website, thecaliphshouse.com.
Photographs by Peter Sanders or originally posted on Tahir Shah’s website.
Moroccan Mosaics available in the United States through:
The Mosaic House, Manhattan. Website: www.mosaichse.com
Also available at www.sainttropezboutique.us.
Tahir Shah is now letting two rooms in his vast house for the intrepid traveler. Visit “Dar Khalifa,” or “The Caliph’s House” at www.thecaliphshouse.com.