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Turning Back Time: The Story of Moroccan Pottery

by nizar ennabil on July 30, 2023

It's impossible to explore the complex history of Morocco without delving into its pottery - an art form echoing the country's major events. Two powerful currents pulse within Moroccan pottery - the heritage of the Berbers and the Hispano-Moorish influences - their imprint apparent in the techniques used and the motifs that adorn the clay pieces.

Since the 19th century, artists like Mohammed Langassi and Boujmaa el Lamali have infused new dimensions into this ancestral craft, pushing Moroccan pottery to a global forefront.

From the onset of humanity, clay has been utilized to craft utility objects. The Berbers, since the Neolithic era, made rustic pottery using the coil technique, a method widely used in the Mediterranean basin.

It wasn't until the 5th century BC, under Carthaginian rule, that the potter's wheel made its appearance in Moroccan coastal cities. With the advent of the Roman era (2nd century BC - 7th century AD), the procedures refined. Pottery was now "terra sigillata", imprinted with designs and lightly glazed.

In the realm of urban pottery, the emergence of glazed Moroccan ceramics can be traced back to 814. At this time, Idriss II welcomed thousands of immigrants from Cordoba into Fès, his new capital. Among these were experienced artisans specialized in glazed ceramics.

The 11th and 12th centuries saw the advent of the Almoravid dynasty, marking the beginning of a flourishing ceramics industry, thanks in part to the increased use of zelliges in monumental architecture. During the Almohad period (13th century), Fès boasted 180 pottery and ceramic workshops, where pottery was decorated with manganese brown and turquoise enamel. The 14th century introduced a new form of polychrome faience thanks to the double-cooking system that set the enamel.

In the 17th century, the famous Sultan Moulay Ismaïl established his capital in Meknès. The city's artisans produced strikingly beautiful ceramics, recognized by their unique decor composed of palm scrolls and serrated, veined leaves.

In 1875, city pottery in Safi, served by locally sourced exceptional quality clay, took a new turn when a potter from Fès, Mohammed Langassi, set up the first faience workshop in the city. Today, Safi pottery enjoys international reputation.

The pottery guilds were replaced in 1940 by craft cooperatives, created by the Service of Indigenous Arts. By 1975, ceramics employed more than 6,000 artisans, producing 50,000 tons for a revenue of 440 million centimes.

An intriguing fact from the 11th-century writings: Andalusian emirs, struggling with the early Reconquista, asked Almoravid chief Youssef Ben Tachfine for help. Youssef crossed the strait and won a decisive victory over the King of Castile (1086). As payment, Tachfine asked the Andalusian princes to bring along the artisans who made the polychrome plates he dined on; the emirs agreed and sent these artisans and their families to Marrakech. Today, some artists still claim to be descendants of these expatriates.

As I wander through the ages of Moroccan pottery history, sourcing for Tuyya, I am not merely purchasing products, but carefully choosing pieces of history that narrate the rich legacy of Moroccan craftsmanship. Each pottery piece represents a chapter of Morocco's story - a journey you embark on as you discover the treasures on Tuyya. Step into the past, one craft at a time.