Search this site

Lawrence of Morocco

Damascene metalwork from Meknes

One of the great attractions in Meknes are the craftsmen. While woodwork and forged metal from Meknes benefit from a great reputation all over Morocco, "Damasquinerie" is in a category of its own because it can be found nowhere else other than in Meknes.

It seems this type of metalwork is actually quite difficult to find origins for. If you have time to look into it, you may even realise that the Damascene technique for ancient sword making doesn't even originate from Damascus. Read here if you are ready for a light headache ;)
I can however give our local version as it is administered to tourists in the souvenir shops and complete it with bits of information gathered around Meknes. It would seem that it was originally exported by Jewish craftsmen from Syria into Toledo in spain where they established a colony in 500 BC. When a little over a thousand years later jews again prepared for exile from Spain, some of the craftsmen came to settle in Meknes.
This art form is a very slow and precise process. Metal forms are made out of an alloy of different irons. Today large sheets of iron are used to make these shapes. After lots of cutting and bashing they finally obtain the desired forms. And that is just the first step.
The shapes are then cut with a special knife to form a grid on the surface of the objects.
The next step is to hammer silver thread into the metal. Gold was used originally but the local Berbers preferred Silver and now gold linning is only found in Toledo.
The Malem (master crafstman) can then start the decorative part of the work. With a tiny little hammer he will slowly and patiently decorate the entire piece. They never use a pattern and work only from inspiration. No two pieces are alike.

Once this is done the object is sent to the furnace which will melt the silver thread and darken the metal. The final step is polishing to smooth out the ridges created by the knife in the second step. And there you have it .... authentic Damasquinerie from Meknes !
Hicham who is hard at work below is from a famous familly of malems. They have been passing down their know-how from father to son for countless generations (that is a photo of his father at work in the background). His tiny little stall is decorated with photos of kings past and present who have come to congratulate him on his art.

All this is in a small kiseria (workshop) only a few streets away from Riad Felloussia so I hope you will take the time to visit and maybe get a clearer idea than through my confused description ;)


Anonymous said...

I have a lovely Damascene camel that I bought in Meknes years ago. How do I clean it? How can I make the silver shiny without wrecking the black metal?

Lionel in Meknes said...


I recommend lemon to get the silver shining and then oil to keep a strong contrast.
I hope you enjoyed Meknes !


Related Posts with Thumbnails