Splendid Handicrafts of Morocco
by Habeeb Salloum
this rushed 20th century there are not many
of us who know that in Morocco there still
exists a medieval world of craftsmen who are
creating, with their hands, masterpieces of
art. Incorporating a synthesis of the
Libyco-Berber, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern,
African and Andalusian artistic traditions,
these artisans have a long and honored
Whole families, century aftercentury,
handing down the trades from father to sons,
have kept Motional fee based on number of
nights. Prices and dates for each of the
tours are subject to change based on total
number of participants. Photo (above right)
Mor.rocco's artistic traditions alive. The
families know-how, always open to
contributions from the outside world, are
constantly improved without deviating from
tradition. New ideas are assimilated, brewed,
melted, then re-created to become genuine
These craftsmen who, in our time, compete
with modern mechanical technology, are able
to survive and, in fact, prosper.
Unbelievably, these Moroccan skilled workmen,
unlike their brethren in other parts of the
world, have fought against the machines of
the modern age and have not lost the battle.
With skills inherited from their fathers,
they produce, today, some of the finest
handmade products in the world.
If one wishes to be transported to a world
of ancient oriental splendor, Fez el-Bali or
the old section of Fez is the place to visit.
Within its walls no automobile is allowed to
enter and, as it was in the medieval ages,
all work is carried on by man or donkey. The
craftsmen, like their forefathers in the days
when Moorish Spain and Morocco were one,
still turn out superb handmade articles which
dazzle the onlooker.
In the same way as they have been for
hundreds of years, these artisans are grouped
in numerous streets specializing in different
crafts. Fascinating to any visitor, the souks
not only in Fez but also in the other cities
of Morocco, appear to come straight out of
The Arabian Nights.
Artistry in Fine Leather
I will never forget the first time I
walked down into the heart of the medieval
part of Fez and saw artisans working amid
shops displaying their colorfully embossed
articles of leather.
Green, red, violet, white and yelow,
marvelously treated by that city*s celebrated
tanners and dyers, leather was being gilded
and transformed into dozens of products. Book
covers, wallets and purses in all shapes and
forms, desk sets, belts, hassocks, photo
frames and countless other articles were
being decorated with sumptuous motifs
comprising geometric designs, arabesques and
stylized flowers or stars.
The artistry of these Moroccan craftsmen
was dazzling and breathtaking. However, this
should not have come as a surprise since the
ancestors of these leather artisans have been
world-renowned hundreds of years. In the
Middle Ages Moroccan leather was so famous
that the best leather of that time and
Moroccan were synonymous terms.
Brass and Copper
Next to leather products, the craftsmen of
Fez and Marrakesh are world famous for their
brass and copper utensils. In the shops and
homes, gleaming brass and copperware entice
the tourist and Moroccan alike. Trays in all
sizes, ashtrays, braziers, incense burners,
door knockers, kettles, sugar boxes, teapots
and other articles decorated with interlacing
arabesque designs and intricate floral motifs
are produced with hands inheriting the skills
Candelabra and lanterns with green, red
and yellow glass inserts are in demand by the
many visitors Morocco hosts annually.
Numerous restaurants and nightclubs make use
of them to create for their clients a relaxed
aura. The colored lights project to the
customers an haunting and romantic
Artistry in Lighting
In Morocco, a room lit with colored
lanterns is always complemented with
attractive handmade carpets. The oldest of
that country*s handicrafts, they come in
basically two types: rural and urban.
However, these are divided into a wide range
of many styles.
World Famous Carpets
Rural carpets, known as Berber carpets,
are the oldest type and the most common. Some
have very thick woolen piles while others
have short goat or camel hair piles. In
almost all cases, they reflect the colors of
the landscapes where they are made. Hence,
they come mostly in beige, brown and tan with
a few in black, red and white. Some have
designs recalling prehistoric inscriptions
while others have geometric compositions made
up of lozenges, arrows and saw-tooth
Urban carpets are a newer type of rug.
They were only introduced from the East into
Morocco in the 18th century. Rabat and Sale
became the production centers of these rich
carpets. Traditionally, the urban carpets
have a harmony of seven colors and a
multitude of designs. Three bands of unequal
width frame a rectangular field with a
star-shaped motif in the center. Bands of
different colors in geometric or floral
designs encompass these and, at each end,
there is a kind of mihrab arch. Fine carpet
experts indicate that these colorful rugs
bring to mind garden paths around a pool
surrounded by flowers and pet birds.
In the homes of the wealthy in Morocco the
handmade rugs are usually associated with
inlaid furniture and other wooden knickknacks
usually made from they wood (a type of oak).
Essaouira, famous for its marquetry, is where
many of these charming pieces of furniture,
desks, all kinds of tables, chests and
jewelry boxes are made.
Artistry in Woodwork
The city's skilled artisans polish the
hard they to a satin finish, then inlay it
with cedar, lemon wood, ebony,
mother-of-pearl and silver in floral and
geometric patterns. By using thin veneers of
the same wood in a checkered design, or with
chevrons, stars and other forms alternating
with mother-of-pearl, ebony and silver they
bring out the subtleties of the they wood.
The saying that the wood craftsmen of the
city combine and harmonize their inlaying to
sing a song of beauty has much merit.
In Fez, the craftsmen are well known for
their skill in decorating all types of
structures with cedar wood, which is abundant
in the nearby forests. Ceilings, doors and
windows are made attractive with zouak, a
type of decor dominated by geometric figures.
The city*s artisans, as well as those in
neighboring Meknes, also specialize in
masharabiehs (screens made of small pieces of
cedar wood turned on a lathe and then
assembled in clever designs). Delicate and
appealing these screens make the windows of
the traditional homes attractive.
Alongside the inlaid articles are the
ceramics which beautify, besides the homes,
fountains, palaces, mosques and public
buildings. The tile-makers whose ancestors
made Andalusia an earthly paradise still
practice their trade in Fez and Meknes.
Throughout Morocco, tiled green roofs
harmonizing with the surrounding greenery and
breathtaking tiled blue, turquoise, white and
yellow patios, rooms and hallways are all the
handiwork of these master craftsmen.
For the preparation of their food the
Moroccans, in the main, employ glazed red or
brown pottery. However, enameled ornamental
pottery made in Fez, Meknes, Sale and Safi
are produced with the finesse of Italian or
Spanish wares. Amphoras, dishes, jars, pots
and vases are decorated mainly with cobalt
blue on an enamel background. Cross-stitch
designs, interlaced curves, polygonal stars
and geometric or floral designs are then
applied in black to these colorful utensils.
In addition, in Safi, ceramic artisans
produce in darker colors the metallic sheen
found in Malaga pottery which itself was
initiated by the Arabs.
In all aspects of the handiwork
industries, nothing is created hastily. The
taste for the superb, along with the passage
of time has created perfection. For export,
the production of handicrafts is strictly
regulated by the Moroccan government which
allows only the topnotch products to be
exported outside the country. In the country
itself, the cooperative shops Coopartim sell
handmade goods of guaranteed quality at
reasonable prices. Hence, a visitor need not
worry about bargaining if he/she is not
Nevertheless, whether sold in these
regulated stores, in the traditional shops,
or laid out on the sidewalks or on the bare
ground in a country souk, the visitor will
find everywhere an extraordinary collection
of handicrafts, brilliant in colors and
magnetic in appeal.
These handmade products are one of the
most fundamental characteristics of Moroccan
life. Varied in range from works of art to
simple utilitarian articles, they are a
living tradition suited for everyday use even
in our modern times. Vivid and alive they are
a living testimony to the rich cultural
heritage of Morocco.
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