Moroccan pottery is celebrated as some of the finest examples of ceramics work the world over. The cities of Safi, Fez and Meknes produce more than 80% of all the country’s pottery, with Safi being heralded as the undisputed pottery capitol of Morocco. I was fortunate enough to watch the process by which skilled artisans turn raw earth into beautiful vases, platters and tagines during a visit to a pottery cooperative just outside of Safi in December, 2009.
The process begins with raw clay, harvested from the earth and transported to the cooperative by truck. Young men then use their bare feet to stomp the clay into large coils which are left to dry in the sun. Once the clay is of a suitable consistency, it is spun on a wheel to create its shape in a process that can take minutes to hours, depending on the piece’s size and complexity. Like items are then grouped together and left to dry in the sun. Many times, these “wet” pieces are etched with geometric patterns in the fresh clay to create an engraved pattern on the final piece.
Earthen kilns then fire each piece, bringing them to an elevated temperature in order to evaporate any moisture left in the clay. The pieces are then left to cool before being embellished with a variety of natural glazes, each applied by the hand of skilled artisan. Designs vary wildly, from traditional Berber themes to intricate modern drawings. It is not unusual for there to be several glazing and several firings on a particular piece. The final product is vividly-decorated and water-resistant thanks to the glaze.