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Fez, a historic Moroccan city founded in 789 AD, is renowned for its Zellige tiles. The vibrant tilework adorns the city’s palaces, courtyard houses and mosques.
The Zellige Craftsmen Village, 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Fez’s center, is dedicated to the tilework industry. There, more than 200 workshops buzz with thousands of craftsmen and workers who make Zellige.
Fez’s clay, a raw material fundamental to Zellige production, goes through a long process before it is turned into tiles. At one workshop in the village, workers soak eight tons of clay every day. They mold them into various shapes then dry them using both the sun and furnaces.
Although the craft has retained its authenticity, there are evident signs of modernization in some workshops. “The American-made kilns simplify our challenging tasks and save time. They produce high-quality tiles and reduce the workforce required,” says Malih Mohamed, a seasoned owner of a Zellige workshop.
While some workshops embrace modernization to reduce environmental impact, others remain tied to old methods. Columns of black smoke, a lingering sign of tire-burning practices, still emanate from certain workshops in the village.
According to the Fez Regional Directorate of Crafts, the Zellige industry has seen significant growth. Between 2005 and 2023, the number of craftsmen has soared from 2,400 to 6,300, and the number of workshops grew from 197 to more than 240.
Exports play a pivotal role in Fez’s Zellige boom. Hissouf Abdellatif, the owner of another Zellige workshop, says he primarily exports to “European and American markets, with 90% of our exports going to the U.S.” In 2020, Zellige exports constituted a whopping 82% of Fez’s traditional industry exports, with America importing 68% of these tiles.
As Fez’s Zellige industry melds tradition with modernization, its global demand showcases the timeless allure of Moroccan craftsmanship.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.