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Monday, 28 July 2014 12:00 AM

During your holiday, whether in your riad, your smart spa or just wandering the ancient medinas of Morocco you will come across beautiful pieces of mosaic artwork – all too easy to overlook but take your time as the Moroccan tradition of zillig is under treat.

Moroccan Zillij, Zillige or Zellij

Over centuries Moroccan artisans have perfected various forms of work that we do not encounter in the West. For me I love two specific forms – Taledakt, highly worked, smooth and often subtely coloured plasterwork (olive soap is “rubbed into” lime plaster), often found in riad bathrooms; and Zillij, geometric designed ceramic tile mosaic artwork found on walls, fountains, occasionally floors and table tops, a skill that is thought to have been practiced for more than a millennium.

The skill level of both of these Moroccan traditions is immense but, whilst Taledakt work is still practiced today (a benefit of tourism in Morocco has been the refurbishment of older riads and the use of Taledakt to create a Moroccan ambience), the creation of Zillij other than for table tops (which are a mere shadow of the classic pieces) for sale to tourists is a dying art.

The skill and attention required to create Zillij is phenomenal, complex geometric patterns using unique individual ceramic tiles are hugely time-consuming and requires many artisans to create and, despite the skill required and the beauty of the art created the artisans involved are not recorded or acknowledged. Zillig is a classic abstract form of artwork within Islamic traditions, drawing on Roman and Phoenician mosaic traditions it is a form of artwork unique to Morocco.

As you explore Fez medina the public fountains are prime examples of such work but, due to the time and effort to create, new public pieces are not being formed and older works are often not being restored but are frequently removed when in a state of disrepair. In some private houses new Zillij is being commission but it is rare due to the expense involved.

Interestingly some of the best preserved Zillij is now found outside of Morocco. In the Alhambra region of southern Spain, a region with strong Moorish history, stunning mosaics still exist and are cared for.

Don't Just Photograph It, Marvel At It

Whilst obviously photogenic, as evident from the number of photos on various travel galleries, don’t just snap and go, take time to look into the art and realise what skill went into it, as the best pieces may not be around for ever.