Yearly Archives: 2011

Silk, Pottery and Metalwork in Fes

Metalwork Craftsman

I had to squeeze through a 5 foot passageway to get to the fondouk that has housed a weaving “factory” for several centuries. Sabra is a silk fabric that is traditionally woven from the threads of a cactus plant (also known as Sabra). Strands of silk are removed from the cactus, dyed with natural dyes and woven into amazing fabric. I bought some very pretty silk bedcovers and chenille from the owner whose father, grandfather and more generations than he can remember, have woven Sabra here.

I also saw some gorgeous Fes pottery and mosaic work being made. Whilst I would love to source some for Arastan I really need to come back and spend several days picking a vendor, selecting and checking. This is the kind of place you see, you buy, you pack and you take with you; if you leave it to be packed and shipped later …

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Bronze Lamps, Berber Silver – and Nougat!

Hanging Lamps

In Fes I went to the lamp store I had in mind from the last time I was here. I passed the Place an-Nejjarine that has one of the many beautifully decorated fountains and a restored fondouk that is now a museum. At the Carpenters’ Souk just next to the fountain I saw some of the extravagant thrones used in weddings; these thrones make our Indian red velvet ones look modest!

I spent the greater part of the day haggling and now have some stunning Moroccan handmade bronze lamps on their way to India. While waiting for the owner’s brother or brother-in-law or partner (I really do need to learn some Arabic or French!) I wandered off to check what the other stores had to offer. Nougat was what I found. The lady spoke no English but after discussion using a calculator (if you don’t speak the local language, don’t leave …

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Travel to Fes

Before leaving Marrakech I saw some gorgeous lamps designed by a Frenchman. Unfortunately there is so much imitation going on that they won’t let you take photos. Prices were outrageous by any standard! Apparently the only people buying are interior designers refurbishing 5 star hotels from the large American hotel chain groups.

Then it was time to take the train to Fes. This was easy enough but the train was hot and crowded and took 7 hours. On the way I got to meet a musician from Fes on his way to perform in Rabat; I was astounded when he said he doesn’t really like Fes. (I suppose you always take what you have for granted!) People are very friendly and especially so when you say you are Indian: Bollywood has done much for our public relations!

Originally I intended to visit Marrakech at the end of my trip but …

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Marrakech Madness

Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Today I visited Riad Art Expo (now in its 7th year). I found some very nice decorative tadelakt lamps and other items, plus lovely hand embroidered towels made in the Fes style. Tadelakt is a bright, waterproof lime plaster which is found in the valley between the High and Middle Atlas Mountains; it was traditionally used on the walls of Marrakech and the underground cisterns, and became highly prized in hammams and royal palaces. More recently it has been a contemporary craze as an alternative to tiles in bathrooms in the US and Europe. It seems that every riad and dar in Morocco has tadelakt bathrooms.

Love it or hate it the heart of Marrakech is Djemaa el Fna which is a huge square in the heart of the medina. Whilst I could do without the snake charmers, the fresh orange juice, dry fruit stalls and traditional dancers are great. There are …

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Another Day, Another Country…

After a successful few days in Turkey I’m looking forward to part two where I’ll head to the southeast, but for the next two weeks it’s off to Morocco. The first stop here is Casablanca: what a disappointing city. The idea of Casablanca brings romance to mind but the city itself is far from it: generally uninspiring. Admittedly we didn’t have time to do any sightseeing – not that there is a lot of interest, but the Hassan II Mosque would have been worth seeing, and although tacky I suppose a visit to Rick’s Cafe should have been done! The only saving grace was meeting a young man named Khalid in the Chamber of Commerce, in our search for someone who spoke English, and who proved to be very helpful.

And yes I have to admit to being too tired to think, and subsequently eating pizza (in the land of couscous …

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Day 5: Diversion to Bursa

Original Door Canvas at Great Mosque

I travelled from Kutahya to Bursa and then back to Istanbul. The city was originally called Prusa and named after its founder Prusias who founded the city in the 2nd century BC to honour Hannibal, King of Carthage. Hannibal together with his soldiers sought refuge with Prusias after losing a final battle with Rome.

Bursa is a bustling city where new and old mix quite amicably. We visited the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) which has the original 14th century door canvas displayed on a wall and has an ablution pool cum fountain within the building.

The antique bazaar is actually about six shops and not worth the effort but the silk caravanserai (Kozahan) is impressive. I found gorgeous silk fabric with traditional Iznik patterns that is now part of the Arastan collection.

This is also home to Turkey’s chestnut production and I managed to meet one of the larger exporters …

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Day 4: Kutahya – Ceramics and Chicken Soup!

Potter at Work

I travelled to Kutahya which is the centre of ceramic and porcelain production in Turkey. The town has a long history with the Ottomans taking control in 1428. Tile workers from Tabriz in Iran were resettled here and in Iznik in 1514 and it became the centre for the Ottoman ceramic industry.

While there are large factories producing porcelain (I was reliably informed that the industry is controlled by one family who are amongst the richest in Turkey), ceramic work is done in small unsigned studios. Each studio supplies its wares to specific customers and I got to see three different ones. There is production line precision to the entire process (with specialist potters, painters and kilns) but what remains is the freehand painting done by the artists. Magical to watch and stunning when completed! I particularly like the traditional iznik pattern tile panels (there is something about those tulips …

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Day 3: Istanbul Grand Bazaar in a Whirl

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The day passed in a whirl (although not of the dervish variety). Made two separate trips to the Grand Bazaar for multiple meetings and in the process manage to see quite a lot of the bazaar and its many interesting architectural features. When I was here last I remember being completely overwhelmed by it all. This time around, I have found it much easier. Everyone speaks some amount of English and are incredibly helpful, so if you ask for directions you get there faster than by looking at a map!

Met a vendor who makes gorgeous Ottoman lamps in every shape and colour. Watch this space. 🙂

And of course I managed a Gözleme (Turkish spinach pancake), Adana kebap, some Ayran (equivalent of the Indian buttermilk) and baklava meant for queens (and kings!) while weaving my way in and out of the many lanes of Sultanahmet!

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Day 2: Shopping in Istanbul

Tree of Life

I had arranged to meet someone who was to introduce me to several vendors and we started at 9:00am little realising we would be on our feet till 9:00pm! A long but very fruitful day.

We started by meeting a master craftsman who is famous for making Sikke hats and has made the ones for the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (‘c’ pronounced as ‘j’ in Turkey) in Konya. I discovered that feltmaking is actually quite difficult as it involves opening up the wool, laying it out with the end object in mind, applying just a touch of soapy water and then rolling it in reed mats. The end products are very impressive and I now have my eye on both Turkish and Kyrgyz felt for the Arastan collection.

We also met several carpet vendors. Turkey has always been a trading point between the East and the West and the …

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Back in Istanbul

Blue Mosque from Turkoman Hotel

If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital

Napoleon Bonaparte

It is great to be back in Istanbul. After dropping my bags off at the Turkoman Hotel (with a fabulous view of the Blue Mosque) I was off to get my cultural fix. While staying in Sultanahmet is expensive, I think the accessibility it gives to the sites is well worth it.

The thing I like most about Turkey is how open they are about their heritage, opening their mosques to non-muslims outside of prayer times. I was again struck by the sheer size of the splendid 17th century Sultan Ahmed Mosque (more popularly known as the Blue Mosque and with six, rather than the more common four, two or one, minarets). It is however not my favourite. That is, for me and many tourists and Turks alike, Rustem Pasha Mosque, which I …

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    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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