Moroccan Arts & Crafts
There is a long proud and noble history to Moroccan arts and crafts which goes back centuries. There have been many influences and Moroccan art today is a stunning example of this. When you shop for a piece of pottery; leatherwork or jewellery during your time here, you will find a great variety of pieces that are stunning in their originality and complexity.
Education has always been highly prized by Moroccans with scholars, poets and artists being highly respected. Education was held in such high esteem that Sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf founded one of the first public libraries and advocated the education of the poor, initiating a programme of schools and university building.
The first settlers in Morocco were Berbers and constitute a large part of the Moroccan population we see today, and although they have also adapted Islamic culture they remain true to their origins and speak their own dialect as well as Arabic. Despite many invasions over the years the Berbers are the same as they ever were having absorbed Spanish, Islamic and Jewish culture into their country, but keeping their own traditions alive.
Cultural influences started early between the 10th and 12th centuries with the Moorish empire in Spain stretching out its influences over the world including Morocco. Morocco at this time acted as a link between Africa and Europe and via this link the Spanish Moors brought their music, literature, philosophy, art and mathematics. There was also regular movement between al-Andalus and Morocco of more scholars, merchants, musicians, artists, scholars and poets. Following the Spanish Inquisition many Moorish Spaniards found refuge in Morocco where their artistic traditions would seep into Moroccan culture even further.
As with their architecture Moroccans use the materials around them to create furnishings, jewellery and clothing. Although much of it is made to be functional it is made with much ingenuity and contains many colours and textures in keeping with their traditions. Islam has had much influence on designs here which have come from the Arabs, and then in turn the Andalousi (Arabic people who lived in Andalusia in Spain) who contributed the geometric patterns and styles that you see in many designs today.
Much jewellery, ceramics and woodwork contain these patterns and graphics, although as you can see from the buildings this was originally intended for architectural purposes. We therefore have the Moslem craftsmen and the rural Berbers coming together and interacting in various pieces of arts and crafts that you see in the souks, although still keeping their own identity.
Carpets in particular are exceptional in their design and craftsmanship and the most impressive in Africa. The variations in design, pattern and colour is magnificent and make them very distinctive. They were often made by the Berbers to symbolise wealth and status; the more ornately they were designed the better. The various symbols and geometric shapes are often hard to decipher but are spiritual in their meaning full of magic power and potent symbolism. The loom itself was meant to carry spiritual power, and it is said that no one carpet is alike. These weaving skills were passed down from one generation to another and are greatly respected. You will also find wool blankets, storage bags, and cushion covers which have all been handcrafted and traditionally made by local people.
Jewellery is again a craft that has had many influences over the ages such as Jewish, Islamic and Spanish. Like the carpets they are symbolic in their meaning, both spiritual and religious and at the same time symbolic of wealth and power. The techniques are many including casting, engraving, and enamelling. Berber jewellery is often made of silver and decorated with beads. Silver is very cheap in Morocco and is well worth looking out for.
Leather is again another material that is much cheaper in Morocco that it is in Europe. It is again a craft that uses many different specialist techniques. The most important and perhaps most impressive examples of leatherwork in Morocco is the book binding which covers books such as the Koran and important manuscripts. Bags, shoes, wallets and boots are all to be found here, all intricately designed and displaying a high quality craftsmanship no longer seen in the western world.
Woodwork is usually to be seen in buildings and there will be plenty of that to be seen during your stay here utilizing cedar; a tree common to Morocco. The designs to be seen are usually arabesque, floral, and botanical motifs which are characteristic of Islamic art. Apart from Cedar the most popular wood and most abundant, there is also argana similar to mahogany and ebony from Madagascar.
The art of ceramics goes back to the beginning of human civilisation and is an ancient and respected craft. Their designs encompass again a variety of different influences.
There is plenty of archaeological evidence to suggest that Berbers were using hand-coiling techniques to produce their clay pots during the Neolithic period; however this was replaced by the introduction of the wheel by the Carthaginians. The rural Berbers earthenware was usually functional for the use of storing food and other liquids. The Romans brought with them terra sigillata which produced stamped designs and the use of clear glaze, with the turn of the 9th century we have the Andalousi immigrants who brought with them their own skills which were incorporated into Fez culture. It was in the late 12th century that the art of zillij was discovered starting in Fez; it was used to decorate important buildings and mosques as well as the homes of the wealthy. This skill later spread to Moorish Spain.
Some of the more urban designs of pottery are purely for decorative purposes and are more elaborate and ornate in their designs. They can include jars, bottles, inkstands and oil lamps.
Whatever captures your eye while out shopping in the souks of Morocco you can guarantee that you are looking at something that has been traditionally handcrafted with designs and patterns that have been passed down from centuries of influences and skills passed down through generations of craftsmen.