In 711 A.D. the Moors conquered Spain and introduced a variety of artistic techniques to Europe, including a unique way of painting ceramic tiles called ‘Zellige’ (or ‘azulejo’ in Spanish and Portuguese) that consists of complex geometrical forms. It is believed that the origin of the designs came out of artistic limitations for Muslims, who by strict Islamic law were not allowed to depict living beings and therefore expressed themselves through shapes.
Master crafstmen called ‘Maalam Ferach’ would study from a young age to learn how to design and create grand mosaics with the tiles, and not surprisingly Zellige became a symbol of sophistication and wealth in many homes. During the Marinid dynasty in 13th-15th century Morocco, it was further elevated and popularized, ornamenting walls, fountains, tables, floors, countertops, ceilings and sometimes even entire mosques.
Today Zellige is still practiced and in companies like Le Mosaiste and Sahara Designs the clay tiles are laboriously baked, hand cut and painted by designers just as they were 1300 years ago. Though most of us cannot adorn an entire space with tiles, even touches in Zellige can be romantic and stunning and bring pattern to any monotone interiors.