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Exploring Fes: A City Immersed in Authentic Moroccan Craftsmanship

by nizar ennabil on July 30, 2023

Every once in a while, you stumble upon a place that completely transports you to another time. This was precisely my experience when I first arrived in Fes, arguably the most authentic city in North Africa. Not only does it enchant with its intellectual radiance from the renowned Karaouiyne Mosque's university, but it also preserves Islamic traditions like no other place.

It all started back in 818 when Sultan Moulay Idriss II welcomed 8,000 Andalusian Muslim families into his new city. Just seven years later, Jewish and Kairouanais (Tunisian) communities joined, each bringing their unique cultures, knowledge, and skills. It's these collective influences that continue to define Fes's reputation, with over 30,000 artisans today still practicing traditional crafts across construction, pottery, and textiles.

Unrivalled Pottery Craftsmanship

The city's talent for pottery is unrivalled, with Fes staking its claim as the uncontested capital of blue or polychrome faience on a white background. Walking through the city, I found myself captivated by the intricately decorated ceramic pieces displayed proudly in local shops.

The birthplace of enamelled and glazed ceramics, Fes, owes its craftsmanship heritage to immigrants from Cordoba welcomed by Idriss II in 814. They brought techniques previously unknown in Morocco, transforming pottery from mere utility to intricate art pieces that soon gained North African fame. Even during the Almohades era in the 13th century, Fes was home to no fewer than 180 potters. Today, about fifty master potters each employ several workers and apprentices.

In the city, potter secrets abound, particularly when it comes to ancient green and blue Fes dyes that enthusiasts can identify at first glance. Ceramics never have more than five colours; the base is white enamel with brown, green, golden yellow, and blue added. Since 1853, the blue has transformed due to refining of cobalt mineral, shifting from a more profound greyish hue to the cobalt blue recognised today.

The designs of these ceramics are varied, showcasing a deep artistic sensibility. From floral and marine motifs to stylised Kufic letters and intricate geometrical patterns - the creativity is astounding. Despite changes since the 18th century, current ceramic artists in Fes still embrace traditional shapes like pots with lids and bowls, often adorned with bright colours and dotted patterns made by dipping an index finger in tar. They've also introduced more contemporary designs like tea sets, salad bowls, vases, and cups. The forms remained beautiful, and their quality is unquestionable.

In my eyes, modern Fes pottery is impeccable. The smooth ceramics with decorations that seem naturally integrated rather than added, narrate the city's rich history in every curve and colour.

As I left Fes, I carried with me a renewed sense of admiration for the human ability to preserve culture and tradition, even in a rapidly modernising world. This city, with its grandeur in architecture, intellectual heritage, and artistic brilliance, is more than just a place - it's a testament to the enduring spirit of Moroccan craftsmanship.

Photo de Anna Jahn sur Unsplash