Morocco is rich with age-old traditions, some that are becoming lost in a world where we favour speed and technology. In Morocco today, you will still see artisans who follow the methods that have been passed down through countless generations to create a wide range of exquisite crafts and arts. Many of these skills and techniques were born in Fez, the former imperial city of Morocco.
Mosaics and tile work
You can learn so much about Morocco through its beautiful tile work known as zellige. The birth of Moroccan tiles hail from Fez but it was introduced to the area by Moors fleeing Andalusia which is why you'll see many similarities in the buildings in Seville, Cordoba and Granada. I visited a pottery workshop to see where the magic happens. Seeing the craftsmanship that pours into this kind of highly skilled work first-hand, made me really appreciate the dedication they have given to honing their craft.
This skill has been developed and kept alive in Fez since the 14th century. Initially the tiles were naturally pale grey but the artisans began to introduce colours to the clay once they were discovered. There are numerous examples of decorative zellige around Fez, especially in religious sites and in the former homes of wealthy citizens – perhaps none more than Dar al Makhzen, also known as the Royal Palace.
Pottery - the old school way
Pottery production has been a major industry in Fez for hundreds of years. Clay from the local area is gathered and brought to the workshop so it can be beautifully transformed. Watching the potter at work, I was super surprised to see that he was still operating the wheel manually with his foot. My brother, who I was travelling with, had recently taken a pottery class in London and he learnt on an electric wheel.
The Tannery & leather goods
Leather is synonymous with Morocco, you can't go anywhere without seeing it, and some might say, smell it first. Located within the maze of the medina, Chouara Tannery is the city's biggest tannery and one of its most iconic attractions. It's something you really have to see for yourself. To do this, you need to walk through one of the leather shops, each of which has a terrace overlooking Chouara.
As we headed up, we were given a small bunch of mint leaves that we were advised to plough up our nostrils to help cancel out the smell of the tannery. And oh boy did we need it!To get this insight into how leather and these other artisanal products are traditionally made is both fascinating and visually different from anything else I've ever seen. It's what makes visiting Fez so special.