If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.
Each morning our breakfast at Dar Bensouda, our riad in the depths of the Fès, Morocco medina, was served in the most charming cobalt blue and white hand-painted pottery. Having read that Fassi craftsmen are known for their ceramic artistry, we ventured out to see what we could find.
Miraculously, by day three, we managed to make our way through the medina’s maze of alleyways and back to Place Seffarine, the metalworkers’ square. It was a Friday, so it was relatively quiet. Local guides will advise against shopping the souks on Fridays, the Islamic holy day, telling you that shops are closed in observance. However, we have found that this isn’t completely accurate. Although some shops may be closed, the souks are generally less chaotic and easier to navigate.
A shop to the side of the square had some interesting and old-looking metalwork pieces on display. One in particular, a palm-sized tarnished brass astrolabe caught my eye. These scientific tools were used to track the position of the sun and stars to astronomically determine the five specific times of prayer and as an aid in finding the Qibla, the sacred direction of Mecca. I should have downplayed the fact that I was interested in it, as Wally’s ability to barter like a Berber seemed to have little to no effect on the shopkeeper.
We moved on, following one of the offshoot alleyways. Located just off Place Seffarine, a pair of whimsical outstretched hands of Fatima drew us into Fès Bleu Art, a shop filled with hand-painted Fassi pottery.
The shop was a visual feast for the senses. Small and narrow, the shelves were full of petite, richly varied tagines and small lidded vessels like the ones we had seen at our riad. Every square inch of the floors and walls was covered with bowls, platters, soap dishes and pitchers.
The affable shop owner, Zouhir, who told us he was a descendant of the Idrisid dynasty, struck up a friendly conversation with us. Asking where we were from, he spoke to us in earnest, explaining how he offers a fair price on his pottery and how to identify the authenticity of a piece: Locally produced stoneware have the word Fas (the Arabic spelling of Fès) hand-painted on the bottom.
We had heard Zouhir speaking with another couple when we entered his shop, and during his exchange he had mentioned pricing, which we were pleased to realize is quite affordable.
Fassi pottery is glazed in white and embellished with cobalt oxide, which produces a vibrant shade of blue during kiln firing. Designs typically feature motifs and patterns including flowers, zigzags, chevrons, dots, triangles and crosshatching, all of which are used to convey messages.
For example, diamond or star-shaped lozenge motifs represent an eye that deflects evil, while a shape with five points or branches conjures the protection of the hamsa, or hand of Fatima.
We began to pick out pieces and put them to the side. What makes these so exceptional in my opinion is that matched sets do not exist, as they are entirely handmade. I think we purchased almost every hand-painted hamsa tile Zouhir had. Wally decided to give them out as gifts to his coworkers.
Zouhir’s prices, as we mentioned, are quite fair. So don’t expect him to come down substantially in price. And don’t worry — you’ll still be getting perhaps the best deal in the entire medina.
On our last day in Fès, we returned to the shop to purchase even more pottery — many of which I made sure to carry on, for fear of returning home with broken shards. –Duke