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Chances are if you have a piece of pottery from Morocco it’s signed “Safi” on the back. Safi is not a person’s name, it’s the name of a coastal city where the bulk of Morocco’s pottery is made. In fact this is one of the only things Safi is known for, but what a reputation to have! When my mom was visiting we decided to go to Safi and see the process. From Marrakech it was a day trip and while the roads in some places were not so great it was well worth the trip.
Why Safi for pottery? The clay that is used is found in the area near Safi (and also near Rabat) and so for generations it’s been the seat of the trade. I was shocked to learn just how many steps and how much work goes into creating each piece of pottery. Yes, they are nearly ALL made individually and by hand. From the extraction of the clay from the ground, to preparing it, molding it, drying it, shaping it, painting it and firing it – all by hand.
This man is a master potter, although I don’t know for certain, like many Moroccan artisans this is not something he’s picked up later in life. He’s likely been involved in the trade for his entire life. Watching him work was amazing. I have thrown pottery before and it is NOT easy.
There are two ways of firing pottery. This picture is in a gas powered kiln. The heat is more even allowing for less breakage and waste. But each piece still is separated and put in by hand.
These domes are the traditional wood fired kilns and while incredibly interesting (and still in use!) they’re not very reliable. Pottery breaks much easier because the temperatures are difficult to regulate. But, some potters who can’t afford to use the gas ovens still use these for their work.
The best news? Safi is not hot on the tourist visit map. It’s a sleepy seaside town where life goes on in much the way it has for decades. The people we met were welcoming and kind – one even offered to share his lunch with me, and gave us a personal tour of the workshops.
That’s Moroccan hospitality!