Making Ceramics

Driving along dusty country roads you will see extravagant displays of ceramics carefully merchandised outside roadside stalls that are designed to stop you in your tracks. 

Each region has it’s own recognisable style with most designs interpretating Islamic or Berber art. Safi, the small coastal town north of Essaouira, is considered the capital of Moroccan ceramics and the pottery produced there is traditionally rich in colourful glazes with intricately decorated geometric and Arabic-esque patterns.

Journeying towards the Sahara desert, you will pass through the small town of Tamegroute, the very name meaning ‘the last place before the desert,’ is best known for it’s heavy earthenware pottery with a uniquely captivating green glaze. 

A functional and ancient art form, pottery making is integral to many cultures around the world to fulfil the practical need for water storage, cooking pots and dishes. The tajine, a Berber dish named after it’s conical shaped cooking pot, has to be the most iconic dish in Moroccan cuisine and great piles of these pots can be found in every souk and roadside stall.

The typical Moroccan pottery workshop consists of a wheel, which is accessed by the artisan lowering themselves into a hole in the ground and kicking the wheel into action then expertly controlling the speed with their foot as they shape the clay with their hands. A pleasingly natural art form, the artisan uses clay dug from local riverbeds mixed with water to form a pliable material for spinning on the wheel with all the skill acquired over generations in the craft.

When it comes to making the large terracotta pots seen gracing the courtyards of the finest riads in Marrakech, two artisans work together in harmony to expertly forge these giant structures out of clay.

The traditional ovens are fired by wood and palm branches, but gas kilns are slowly being introduced as a more environmentally friendly alternative and these must be preferable to the ovens in Tameslouht, which are fuelled by old car tires and belch out thick clouds of ugly black smoke all day long.

Sean Stillmaker