My Moroccan Village (Part-3)



To read the previous part of this story, click here.

These are three beautiful ammonites and one trilobite from my fossil collection. Ammonites were mollusks (a type of shellfish) that lived along with trilobites arthropods like crabs in the prehistoric seas. The examples here are all "mold" fossils which were formed when the ammonites and trilobites died on the sea floor. All soft parts of the animal decomposed. Then, the skeletons or other harder body parts eventually turned to rock when sediments pressed down on them.

All of my friends have fossil collections. They often sell their specimens to foreign tourists who drive past on the main highway through the mountains. I think I'm a "professional" fossil collector: I never sell any of my finds!

Fossils to me are but curious reminders of a very distant past of which we know little. Indeed, in the end, Allah is the All-Knowing, the Most Wise.

My father is a mu'allim, a skilled potter and ceramic tile maker. He takes local red clay from nearby cliffs, adds water and mixes the moist clay with his feet. He learned his craft from other master tile makers in Ait Beni Korchi. Making zillij or mosaic cut-tiles is a complex process. Designs are first drawn on large sheets of paper. The patterns are individually coloured, numbered and then cut. The cut-out patterns are placed on tiles of the same colour. Hammers, chisels and files are used to cut the tiles and smooth the edges. Finally, these precisely cut pieces of zillij are placed on a soft plaster surface to form the design that you can see here.

The kilns, or"ovens", my father uses to fire his tiles lie just outside of our village; they are centuries old and have always been in use. When the tiles are ready, my father takes them to the first kiln used for firing the "raw" ceramic material. The second kiln seals or "fixes" the colours. He uses willow wood (stripped of its bark) or ground up olive pits as a fuel to fire the kiln . Just as carpet weavers use plants to make their dyes, ceramic tile makers make their own beautiful "natural" glazes. To produce the clear blue colour, my father mixes lead, sand and a special stone found only near Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. For yellow, he mixes lead, sand, rust and a stone found only in the area around Fez.

My father is not only a master of cut-tile mosaic, but can also produce work such as the Arabic calligraphy you can see above the zillij. This involves a difficult process. First, a large slab of reddish-gray clay covered with a deep purple/black glaze is fired. After firing, the Arabic inscription is drawn onto the glazed tile. Finally, the tile is chiseled away revealing only the Arabic writing in relief.

Once again, a connection can be made between my country, Morocco and Al-Andalus (Spain). Muslim immigrants who were fleeing the persecution in the 13th century, brought their ceramic tile making expertise with them to Morocco. The tradition is alive and well in our part of the Islamic world, Al-Hamdulillah, Many mosaic tile designs like this one resemble zillij found today in old buildings in Cordoba and Granada in Spain.

Finally, the Moroccan Arabic word for ceramic tile: zillij (plural zulayj) has passed into the Spanish and Portuguese languages where the word azulejo refers to the blue and white ceramic tiles produced in the Hispano-Arabic style.

Al-Hamdulillah, today I am visiting the souq al-khamis (Thursday market). Souqs (markets) are named after the days of the week. For example, souq al-ahad is the "Sunday" market. Al-Hamdulillah, market days are very interesting and exciting, especially for children. They also offer an opportunity for friends to meet and catch upon the latest news.

After salat al-fajr, most men and boys in the village prepare their donkeys or horses for the long ride to the market. Today, I will help my father to try to sell two large baskets of majdoul dates which he has loaded onto either side of our donkey.

To read the next part of this story, click here.

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