Study – Types of Zillij

In this post, we will attempt to look to different types of Zillij tiles and how to distinguish one another (any corrections or comments would be very much appreciated!).It is a hard task and very confusing should we not look closely to the types available for Zillij tiles, but with close inspection to details, you should be able to differenciate between the types and further appreciate the art of these geometrical beauty. There is only a few types for Zillij so no worries about getting lost too early.

As you may have read from the earlier post regarding Zillij/Zellige, you should have known the background of this awe-inspiring artwork. However, let me refresh you on some of the basic and fundamental facts about Zillij.

Zillij (or alternatively spelled Zellige) is tilework covered with enamel in forms of chips set into plaster. It is mainly utilized for Moroccan and Andalusian architecture, however it is now used for many Muslim countries, mainly in North Africa. It is a type of ornamentation used mainly for walls, floors, ceilings, pools, fountains, pillars and household items like tables and such. Zalayji in Moroccan Arabic means the craftsman who works on Zillij.

Now with the basic facts explained, we shall look into the types of Zillij tiling.

  • Ankabuti – Arabic for spider. It is a design extensively using geometric patterns all around. It is named as such because it resembles spider webs. The story behind it is that the Prophet Muhammad, when he was in fleeing from Mecca from the infidels of Quraisy Tribe, he went into hiding in a cave beside his companion Abu Bakar As-Siddiq. It is said that once the prophet entered the cave, spiders built their nests in the entrance of the cave, making a curtain of web. When the hunting Quraisy men went to the cave, they dismissed the place as the hideout of the prophet, seeing the intact spiderweb in the entry. Hence, the spiders saved the propeht, and that is why it is forbidden (Arabic – haram) for a muslim to kill one. The Ankabuti zillij pattern took its inspiration from this story. It is said to signify mass of people, however I could not fathom any more information about this significance.
  • Example of Ankabuti style pattern Zillij in Medresa Bou Inania in Fez, Morocco.

  • Kufi – also a name for a type of calligraphy style, the Kufi, as far as I know and with par with the calligraphic counterpart, is the straight geometric lines pattern Zillij. It probably utilizes straight lines to form a symmetrical pattern, using different colours to add interest and break the monotony.

An example of Kufi style Zillij in Medresa Bou Inania, Fez, Morocco

  • Tawriq – A leaf type pattern of Zillij. It is quite distinguishable from the others for its use of curves that resembles leaves, and as always, arranged in a geometrical symmetrical fashion.

An example of Tawriq tessellation in Alhambra, Spain.

  • Tashjir – Zillij Design in a form of a tree. Not necessarily a whole tree but resembles a tree with interwoven stems and branches. It is different than the tile panels of Iznik and central Asia (in terms of tree and vegetal represntation) where trees are literally representation of trees growing from a vase, whereas the Tashjir design the stems and branches intertwine in a symmetrical pattern.

    Fabrizio Saudino / CC BY-NC 3.0f

    Zillij Tiling in Alhambra, Spain. Note the Tashjir style Zillij around the doors.

  • TestirGeometric interlace design around a star in a Zillij pattern. Perhaps one of the most used and known styles of Zillij. The design revolves and blooms around a star while the lines interlace.

Details of a fountain in Morocco – a perfect example of Testir Zillij style.



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3 responses to “Study – Types of Zillij

  1. Thanks for the interesting info in this post! I’d love to know what your sources are– I have a copy of Zillij: The Art of Morroccan Ceramics, but found it very unsatisfactory (except for the images, mostly). I’d love to find out more about the specific patterns and their meanings, but have found practically nothing online (except now for your blog!). BTW, I’m so impressed with your blog that I posted a link to it from mine. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for linking my blog to yours! I use the internet often as my source, but I visit the local library for books on Islamic Art as well, though I failed to take note of the titles. Why don’t you try Arabesques: Decorative Art in Morocco (ISBN-10: 2867701244) A friend recommended me this book, and I found it a very good read.

  2. Azim- Thanks for the book suggestion! I’ll check it out.

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