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The Visual Feast of Moroccan Tile

Moroccan architecture is recognized as being among the most beautiful in the world, with intricate tile designs enhancing many buildings. Moroccan tiles are called “zellige,” (or “zellij”), an Arabic word that translates as “little polished stone.” In Spain and Portugal, these tiles are called “azulejo.” The largest mosque on the planet in Casablanca, Morocco, beautifully adorned with fabulous zellige tile designs. The former grand palace, now a museum, has stunning geometric designs on the pillars, floors, and walls. 

The Art of Moroccan Tile Making

The art of zellige tile making was born in Morocco. It is believed to have been inspired by Greek and Roman mosaics, but with a difference. The strictures of some Islamic sects forbade images of living creatures in works of art, so artists worked to create intricate geometric patterns and colors. The earthenware tiles were handmade by craftsmen, with techniques passed from generation to generation. Training involved years, and sadly, it is a dying art, as commercially produced tiles are now available. 

Traditional, Handmade Zellige Tiles

The process of creating zellige first involves selecting the ideal unrefined Moroccan clay, which is then filtered and kneaded by hand to produce the ideal texture. The clay is then dried naturally in special forms for weeks or months, depending on the weather. The chosen geometric design is drawn onto the tile, which could be curved, triangular, multi-sided, or any shape the artisan has created for the final design. Enamel glaze is applied by hand and the tiles placed in a wood-fired kiln, which circulates heat less evenly than a commercial kiln, creating subtle, natural variations in color. 

The creation of these tiles required skill and precision, achieved with years of training and practice. Three craftsmen are needed to produce the tiles, once the ideal clay has been chosen, filtered, and processed. The first step is the creation of the design and selecting the tiles. The second craftsman hand cuts and shapes the tiles. The third craftsman removes bits of excess clay and precision cuts the geometric shape. The envisioned design is then produced in a special flat form, and placed to enhance the beauty of walls, floors, or another area. 

Talented craftsmen of days created intricate tile designs long past, and were added to opulent palaces, gates, mosques, shrines, fountains, schools, and other structures. In Morocco, you can see this unique artform on many buildings with the geometric designs of zellige tiles on the exterior and the interior. 

A History of Moroccan Tiles

The tiles first appeared in the 10th century, and originally only a few colors were used. As this traditional artform flourished, other colors became available, with tiles produced in blue, green, and yellow, and finally red. The tiles were used to adorn all types of structures, including palaces, tombs, patios, baths, and to add beauty and opulence to the private homes of the wealthy. 

Zellige tiles can be seen in modern homes, but rarely the handcrafted, original versions. Floors can be enhanced with zellige tile borders or used as a backsplash in the kitchen, on shower walls, or on floors. As a design element, the tiles are stunning, but nothing is more mind-blowing than seeing the original works of art, created by the artisans of the past, ornamenting structures in Morocco, where the art was born.

The Mysterious Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have intrigued historians for centuries. The gardens are said to have been the most glorious in the ancient city of Babylon, located where the present-day city of Hillah, Iraq now stands. Historians dispute that these gardens even existed, or were in Babylon, with some evidence indicating the gardens were built in Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire, located where Mosul now stands in Northern Iraq. 

The King and a Homesick Wife

Babylon was settled in the 3rd millennium BC. King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled Babylon when it served as the capital of the region. The legend goes that the King wanted his capital to be the most splendid in the world, and built the Ishtar Gate, adorned with lions, dragons, and bulls, as the eighth gate surrounding the city, with remnants of the gate found in museums in Europe and the USA.

If the tales are true, the King was responsible for building the Hanging Gardens as a gift to his wife, Amytis, who was homesick for her home in Media (now the northwestern part of Iran). The King and his talented engineers are believed to have created a system of pumps, waterwheels, and cisterns to deliver water from the Euphrates to keep the gardens green and lush.

Whether the gardens were in Babylon or in Nineveh, just the name “the Hanging Gardens of Babylon” conjures pleasurable images. It is believed that these gardens, rather than being “hanging” in the English sense of the word, were raised on arched terraces to create a hill of green to mimic the lush green hills of the queen’s home. Imagine living in a flat, dry, sandy region and coming upon a green hill covered with greenery, herbs, flowers, and trees, with water flowing from above – a true feat of early engineering.

It is said that Alexander the Great saw the gardens, but like many legends, the historical record is sketchy at best. Two Greek historians, Strabo and Diodorus Siculus claimed to have seen the gardens, and described them:

“The approach to the garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier.” (Diodorus Siculus)

“The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra (30 meters) in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations…” (Strabo)

Gardens Built for Beauty and Pleasure

Pleasure gardens have been built, often for royalty, since recorded history. Scores of servants and slaves maintained these royal gardens. Gardens were created for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and the Persian gardens in Iran are believed to have been first created as far back as 4000 BC. 

No matter the period of history, gardens are an important part of the human experience. In ancient Egypt, trees were planted to create sacred groves near royal tombs, and near urban homes to provide shade, and provide nuts, dates, and fruit to nourish the community. Some Assyrian Kings demanded fruit trees as a tax from the people in the regions they conquered, creating gardens and orchards with fruit from other lands.

Creating a garden is an ancient tradition that will never fade. Caring for trees, plants, and flowers is a soothing and rewarding activity that has restored the human soul since time began.

Ariel Emrani

The English Garden

The English are passionate gardeners, and their public and private gardens are arguably among the most beautiful on earth. Visiting the UK is never complete without a stroll along lush green lawns, carefully manicured hedges, on winding pathways abundant with foliage and flowers. The great gardens of London are legendary, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Hampton Court Palace, Sky Garden and many more. Roses and peonies are my personal favorites, and I am currently busy creating a classic English garden at home.

A Short History of the English Garden

The long history of English gardens starts with the Romans, who conquered the region in the 1st century AD. These gardens were planted around the largest homes and palaces, and only a few remnants of these original gardens remain. The designs of the age include formal box hedges, gravel walkways, statuary, and lawns. 

When the Anglo-Saxons claimed the region, the art of gardens languished, to be revived in the Middle Ages. The gardens of the age were small, enclosed, and featured turf seats and mounds. During the Tudor rule, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, knot gardens were the fashion. These gardens featured low flower and herb beds, with a pattern of intertwining lines created with low hedges and manicured herbs, surrounding fountains, ponds, enhanced by sundials and statues.

When the Stuarts gained control in 1603, formal Italian and French styles became the fashion among the aristocracy. These gardens featured a wide avenue from the home entry surrounded by formally clipped low hedges. The Dutch influence was evident, with flower beds resplendent with tulips and other perennials and topiary.

English landscape gardens were the fashion during the Georgian age, when a naturalistic feel was considered more beautiful. Treed parkland, temples, statues, and groups of trees created a more parklike experience. The tradition evolved to parklike gardens with wandering pathways along round ponds, with clusters of trees rather than the geometric designs of earlier times. 

Victorian gardens featured masses of flower beds, bright colors, complex bed designs, and large green spaces. This was an era when public parks with gardens and public greens were established for the public to enjoy, which they do to this day. 

Modern English gardens reflect the long history of gardening, now focused on color schemes, with a profusion of flowers and herbs fitted into every possible space, with trellises dripping with vines and flowers. 

The English Rose Garden

Roses are a standby in many English gardens, and the rose was the symbol for the factions that were fighting for control. The white rose was the symbol of the York family, and the red rose the symbol of the Lancaster family, hence their years of struggling for control called “the War of the Roses.” 

Roses were so valuable during the 17th century, that roses and rose water were considered legal tender, used in bartering for goods. Cultivated roses originated in China, making their way to Europe in the late 18th century. New varieties are cultivated every year, with roses in blue, deep pink, white and green, and even black. English roses grow in a shrub-like shape ideal for borders and combinations in flower beds to add a delicate charm and heady scent to any home garden.

I enjoy creating my own secret garden, and being able to enjoy it as it grows, changes, and gets added to over the years – an outdoor oasis of serenity where we can rest, breathe, and restore the spirit.

Ariel Emrani

“Paris is always a good idea.”

There is no question – Paris is one of my favorite places in the world. The architecture, the food, the history, and the beautiful French people combined lead to an unforgettable journey. Parisians are a rare breed, and while I have heard that some tourists consider the French to be less friendly, I have never found this to be the case – they have the right to be immensely proud of their city and its unique culture. Respect the culture, and you’ll make friends.

Visit Paris when you can and do your best to learn a few words and phrases in French. Unlike some European cities, you cannot expect everyone to speak English, or even be willing to! 

We Owe Our Freedom to the French!

During the American Revolution, it is unlikely that the Continental Army would have survived without the help of the French, who supplied supplies, arms, and ammunition to the troops from 1778 to 1882. Benjamin Franklin was involved, starting with his first trip to Paris in 1776 and then meeting with a secret envoy, sowing the seeds of a relationship between the revolutionaries, even before formal treaties in 1778. 

Historians estimate that about 12,000 French soldiers served on the rebel forces, along with 22,000 naval personnel on 63 French warships. Without the aid of the French, it is unlikely that the revolution would have been successful, and the United States would have never existed. So, when you go to Paris, you are mingling with a culture that values freedoms – just like we do.

Let’s Talk French Food

French cuisine – fantastic. Every dish is built with fresh ingredients and focused on bringing out the flavors of the ingredients. Aspiring chefs travel from countries all over the globe to be trained in French cooking techniques. The first French cookbook was published in 1651, the start of an avalanche that continues today. Called the “Chef of Kings,” Auguste Escoffier is credited with bringing “haute cuisine” to the modern world, along with efficiency in restaurant kitchens. Nouvelle Cuisine (translation – “new kitchen”) appeared in the 1960s and 70s, a style of cooking that stressed freshness, lightness, and flavor, with a Japanese influence on presentation. Eating out in Paris will not just satisfy your hunger – it is an aesthetic experience! 

Stunning Architecture – the Old and the New

We have all seen countless images of the Eiffel Tower, but nothing compares to seeing its artful lines in person. It was created for the 1889 “Exposition Universelle,” a holiday commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Fifty engineers and designers were involved. But the Eiffel Tower is just one of literally thousands of stunning architectural wonders you will encounter in Paris, any time you take a walk. Who would have thought an entire city could be designed collectively but with variety of shape and detail and yet all brought together by the consistent roof design? Not only is Paris the birthplace of Gothic architecture, it has important monuments throughout of Renaissance style as well as collaboration with Russia (the Pont Alexandre III). 

French Fashion – The Ultimate in Design

French fashion has ruled the world since the 15th century. The courts across Europe tried their best to keep up with the French court, and the tradition continues to this day, with Paris known as the global fashion capital of the world. Shopping in Paris is an unforgettable experience. Whether you choose to enter a small shop or enjoy the Champs-Elysees where you can find iconic brands like Chanel, Dior, Cartier, and Van Cleef Arpels.