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A Journey through Imperial Meknes: The Art of Embroidery and Damascening

by nizar ennabil on July 30, 2023

My footprints left a trail in the ancient city of Meknes, an imperial city that resonates with the grandeur and extravagance akin to Versailles. It was built by the sovereign Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV, who aimed to etch his name in the history books.

Every nook and corner of Meknes exudes charm, a testament to the blend of natural beauty and the skills of the local artisans. One such place where this blend was most evident was the Dar Jamaï Palace. It was a treasure trove of Moroccan art, a sanctuary that showcased an array of regional crafts: embroidery, damascening, dinandery, wood carving, weaving, leatherworking, and ceramics.

The Enchanting Embroidery of Meknes

In Meknes, as I found in many cities in the north, embroidery was not merely a skill; it was revered as an art form. The embroideries of Meknes were significantly influenced by the techniques of Fez but had unique features that set them apart.

The first thing that struck me was their vibrant colours. Unlike the monochromatic embroideries that I had seen elsewhere, Meknes's pieces were two-sided, adorned with a brilliant palette. Even the stitches had variety. The most commonly used straight stitch was modified here. Instead of counting the threads, the artisans worked by instinct, a skill developed due to the difficulty of working with the superfine cotton veil or muslin.

The designs were denser than those in Fez, sometimes compromising clarity. But the beauty was in the details. The embroidered borders and the background patterns filled with tiny flowers or crisscrosses were a testament to the artisan's skill. The bath scarves and tablecloths were truly the standout pieces, their vibrant designs a perfect souvenir from Meknes.

The Delicate Damascening of Meknes

Next, I stumbled upon another art form that was mesmerizing — damascening. This delicate process involved embedding smooth or twisted threads of copper, silver, and gold into metal.

Historically, damascening was practiced in Damascus, Egyptians, Romans, and Italians. The East, especially from the 11th century, had dominated this craft. In Syria, damascened iron was used only for weapons, but the technique later found its way into ornamental objects. The artisans of Meknes had taken it a step further. They had incorporated damascening into their decorative trays, dishes, small vases, and even jewellery.

Some of the most intricate pieces were the carved ones. Artisans often sculpted long-necked birds, deer, and roe, which were up to a metre in height. Every detail was a testament to the time, effort, and skills invested in the process.

As I conclude my journey through Meknes, I bring back with me not just souvenirs, but memories of the city's grandeur, its craftsmanship, and the stories etched in every piece of art. Come, explore this magical journey through Meknes with me on Tuyya.com, where we celebrate and share the beauty of Moroccan handcrafted products.

Photo de Alex Azabache sur Unsplash