“The Red City” is a Rainbow of Color
Marrakech is known as “The Red City,” a reference to the wealth of rose-tinted buildings contained within its pinkish-orange walls.
But look closer, and you’ll find a much more diverse array of colours within this metropolis – brilliant whites, blues, greens, yellows, and browns adorning everything from mosques to hammams (public baths) to furniture in private homes.
What you’re looking at is “zelige,” and it’s a form of terra cotta tilework. Chipped enamel in bright colors is arranged in complex geometric configurations, forming the basis for beautiful mosaics which have become synonymous with Moroccan architecture.
Zelige itself dates back to the 10th or 11th century. Though it’s difficult to assign a universal meaning to something such as art, the Islamic principles of truth, discipline, reflection, and faith are said to be found within zelige’s straight lines and abstract, non-representational patterns. To create figures or likenesses – human or otherwise – is frowned upon as a form of idol worship.
Though the former is a common belief across Islam, zelige’s use of straight lines is somewhat unique among Middle Eastern art, which typically embraces curved lines like the kind seen in arched doorways and the dome-shaped minarets topping mosques. The influence of the Berbers, a group of indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley, is the likely cause.
Creating zelige is a long and labor-intensive process, passed down through generations of artisans. Though much is still done entirely by hand, some zelige makers are now making use of computer modeling to render the increasingly intricate works.
Where can you see zelige in Marrakech? Just about everywhere. Walls, walkways, ceilings, tombs, and fountains. Four Seasons Resort Marrakech has a spectacular zelige piece at the doorway of its Special Restaurant. Approximately 10,000 pieces – all imported from the Imperial City of Fez – make up the work, which took craftsmen five days to finish.
If you wish to enjoy more of zelige’s vibrant patterns and colors, there are several rooms and suites within the Resort that feature the art. The Four Seasons Concierge can also refer you to a number of local museums and landmarks as well as shops where you can take home a zelige souvenir, a beautiful and lasting way to remember your time in the city.