Zellige — which in Arabic translates to ‘little polished stone’— is a traditional form of tile work widely used in Islamic architecture. Today, however, Zellige tiles are increasingly used in contemporary residential and commercial architecture.
Inspired from the Greco-Roman mosaics, Zellige tiles first appeared in Morocco in the 10th century. The Mughals are credited for patronizingZellige tile work and by the 14th century these tiles could be seen in all forms of buildings and architecture, including palaces, fountains, patios, tombs and mosques.
In Pakistan, intricate Zellige tile work can be seen in the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore and the Shah Jehan Mosque in Thatta.
The technique of creating Zellige tiles involves assembling fragments of glazed terracotta tiles of different shapes and colours to form geometric patterns such as diamonds, squares, triangles, stars, crosses, honeycombs and fish scales.
The colour palette was initially limited to earthen and white tones, but by the 20th Century, blues, greens, reds and yellows began to be used and many attribute this to the influence of Sufism, which is rooted in connecting with elements of nature.
Black, white and brown represent the spirit; red stands for a dry and hot fire, blue for the dry and cold earth, yellow for hot and humid air and green for cold water.
In addition to their aesthetic appeal, Zellige tiles are very versatile and can be used to decorate a variety of surfaces such as walls, floors, stairs, and fireplaces, fountains, building facades, pools and spas. They have also become popular as an element of interior decor, particularly for tabletops.
Acquiring authentic Zellige tiles is difficult as only artisans in Hala, Sindh, are believed to possess the skill to prepare custom-made Zellige tiles, which can cost anywhere between Rs 750 and 800 for one 6×6 inch tile.
By Uzma Khateeb Nawaz