Morocco is a major exporter of phosphates to the rest of the world. The geology of Morocco is such that it has a rich source of mineral deposits. This is also a cause for the thriving pottery and ceramic tile industry in the area. Moroccan ceramics are a popular choice among tourists who buy them as takeaways from the country. Besides this, they are also an integral part of the classic Moroccan interior design.
Centers of Moroccan Ceramics and Pottery in Morocco
There are four main centers for the production of pottery in Morocco. The rich red soil of Wadi Lan in the far north is the raw material for the region's unglazed terracotta pottery, and the prolific pots produced here are used by the local people as oil lamps, charcoal burners and cooking utensils. The pottery is inexpensive and simple in style, yet completely ovenproof. You can notice massive collections of these displayed in tourist areas.
The second area is River Abu Reg Reg, which is located in the Rabat region. There is a dedicated potter’s colony on the banks of this river. The specialties produced in this area include unglazed and glazed earthenware. Therefore, here, you can expect to get anything from the decorative urns for your dinner area to the coffee sets. The peculiar feature of this pottery is the French influence in the work. Therefore, you will not be able to find any designs, which have been influenced by Islamic patterns.
The yellowish clay is found on the Al Jorfal Asfar or the Yellow Coast. This clay is used for making large dishes and bowls at Safi, which is known for its distinctive pottery. The designs on the pottery are also particularly different and possess the characteristic black lines and greenish-blue over-glaze. This glaze is also called turquoise. The blue pottery, which is the face of Moroccan ceramics all over the world, is made in Fez. In fact, Fez is popular for a range of other handicrafts like wooden carpets and leather goods as well.
The geographical location of Fez is such that all the materials required for the ceramics industry are easily available. There are two main kinds of clay obtainable in this area. The first kind of clay is called the creamy yellow clay. This clay is used for making unglazed pottery items like water cups and storage jars. This clay is found on the upper strata of the valley. On the other hand, the other type of clay is found on the lower strata of the valley. This clay is dried in the sun, which converts its color to white. The clay is now ready for decoration. A majority of the decorative ceramics are made from this clay.
The blue painting on the white clay is generally done by master craftsman who have been in this trade for generations altogether. An example of a large vessel that is made as part of the Moroccan ceramics collection is jebana. Jebana is the traditional Moroccan container used for storing cheese. The name of the container has been taken from the name of a local variety of cheese called j’bna.
However, the traditional use has been superseded by the more modern use, which makes use of jebana as a soup tureen. The dome lidded vessel is accompanied by bowls, which are also known as zalafa. This arrangement is particularly used in the holy month of Ramadan when the hot soup called haria is served to the people for breaking their fast.
As mentioned previously, blue pottery dominates the world of Moroccan ceramics. Technically, this is because of the presence of cobalt in the stones and rocks of the Fez region. The rocks are swept and accumulated in the narrow gorge of Wadi Mellih. On grounding, the glaze on these rocks is amazing and is one of the most prized possessions of the pottery and ceramics industry of Morocco. However, in the more recent years, this practice has been altered. Nowadays, the potters use the rocks from the valley and import the glaze from Germany.
The classic Moroccan style ceramics design is called blue de Fez. It is a complex yet exquisite geometrical pattern. The extensive use of geometrical patterns in Moroccan style of ceramics can be attributed to the fact that Islam does not allow representation or portrait of animals or flowers. The colors used for painting the ceramics are obtained from different materials. For instance, cobalt is used for the blue color, copper oxide for the bluish green color and natural cadmium deposits for the yellow color. The different shades and colors are derived by adding mineral salts into the water, which is then used for coloring the clay. The paint brush used for painting is generally made from horsehair or bamboo.
The Process of Creation
The process used to produce pottery and ceramics is similar to that used anywhere else in the world. The clay is put on the spinning wheel, and the rotation of the wheel is steered, by the craftsman, to create a pot. A bowl takes approximately 10 minutes to make. However, for something as big as a jug, it may require a time of close to three hours. The clay, which has been molded, on the spinning wheel, is then dried to let the clay take its shape. The dried items are then separated into pots, jugs and serving dishes. Then, the dried pottery is sent to the kilns. The traditional kilns use leaves and branches. Considering the amount of pottery that is made in Morocco, the process is not particularly environment friendly.
Once the firing process is over, the decoration phase of the pottery begins. The designs that are painted onto the pottery largely depend on the area in which the pottery is being made. For instance, the pottery made in Berber tribes has patterns that have been in use for hundreds of years. Once the paint of the pattern is settled, the pottery is again fired to finalize the pot or jug.
Specialty of Moroccan Ceramics and Pottery
The Moroccan style ceramics made in the Berber villages are earthy and have a rustic feel to them. The ceramics and jugs are considered expensive items to be used for decoration and are mostly bought from the streets of Marrakesh or Fez by wealthy families. However, the same is bought by the lower and the not-so-wealthy class only on festivals or weddings.
The ceramics and pottery speak volumes about the influences that other cultures have had on the traditional Moroccan art form. The Safi pottery has a characteristic metallic and shiny look. The pottery from Fez is also similar to the pottery from Safi. However, the Fez pottery makes use of colors like yellow, brown and green on the white background of the clay. The classic green pottery, which can easily be seen in institutions of Morocco, is made in Meknes and uses an adapted version of the pottery methods used by pottery makers of Fez.
Whether you are a traveler who is looking, for a gift, to take home for your family and friends or a pottery enthusiast, Moroccan ceramics are pieces of art that are unparalleled in beauty and splendor. You can pick up anything from the tea sets to the jugs to plates, and it is sure to make you remember Morocco in every look or serving.