Wood craftsmanship in Morocco

Wood craftsmanship in Morocco

Wood craftsmanship in Morocco

Wood craftsmanship in Morocco: Woodcarving is an art form that is very much part of the Moroccan craft landscape, and is the only creative craft found only in Morocco. The main raw material for this craft is wood. However, there are many different types of wood: Mahogany, Oak, Cedar, Acacia, Boxwood, Redwood, Euroukou, Rosewood, Beauderie, Scotch, Noyais, Letter, Red Jujube and Thuja root. Each species has a particular characteristic that sets it apart from the others, and each is designed for a specific use. The most widely used being cedar, thanks to the abundance of cedar trees in the forests of the Middle Atlas regions, woodworking has flourished as a rich and traditional craft, particularly in the cities of Fez, Marrakech, Essaouira, Tetouan and Meknes.

There are two types of woodworking in Morocco: traditional and more modern. We’ll look at both categories here:

History of woodworking:

Wood has been used by Moroccans since antiquity. We find it in the decoration of houses from the time of the “Adarissa” in the 7th century. It was often used to build mosques, monuments, houses, palaces, Riads and other buildings. Simple pieces of wood were transformed into works of astonishing beauty and invention by the talented Moroccan artisans.

Woodworking, on the other hand, did not reach its apogee until the 13th century, with the Merinid dynasty (13th-15th centuries), as the city of Fez, with its magnificent and sumptuous mansions, still testifies. Stucco, zellige and wood were often used in the homes of the rich and powerful, in palaces and Riads, to give a refined and original appearance to residences. At the time, wood carving was enhanced with stitching and used to cover the upper part of building walls. Vestiges of this work can be admired at the Karaouiyne mosque or at the various medersas in the city of Fez. Economic prosperity and numerous civic exploits helped this craft flourish until the 15th century.

Today, craftsmen still work with noble woods such as cedar, particularly in the Azrou region. Thuja root from the forests of the Middle Atlas is used in the south of the country.


The art of joinery encompasses everything to do with wood, whether natural or manufactured. It’s the work done by sawing wood and shaping it to customer specifications. It’s an art that demands patience and precision. Thanks to the presence of different types of trees such as rice, pine, beech and olive, Morocco is home to many different types of joinery.

Objects produced include home furnishings or decorative items such as tables, divans, chests, doors, windows, small wardrobes… wood designs reflect Moroccan culture, history and traditions. There are several specialties:

Home and office furniture: Furniture for bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, chairs, desks, bookcases and other interior furniture for homes and offices.

Outdoor furniture: Bamboo chairs and tables for clubs and gardens.

Carpentry specializing in doors and windows.

Specializing in high-precision wooden antiques and decorations.

Building carpentry: less and less present, but in the past, carpentry took part in construction work to lay the foundations of buildings such as staircases and roofs.

Carved wood:

Once the joinery has been completed and the wood has taken on the desired shape, we can move on to the next stage, carving. There are many designs and patterns to suit all tastes. Today’s woodcarving designs in Morocco date back to the Almoravid and Marinid reigns. The motifs are borrowed from Andalusian ornaments. Any woodwork object can be carved, from furniture and doors to decorative objects….

Wood is carefully carved, always combining plant forms such as palmettes, tree leaves, a combination of pine cone sheen and leafy parchment. Geometric shapes, such as straight lattices, masts and stars, and sometimes calligraphy, especially Koranic verses. Ornaments can be horizontal, diagonal or vertical lines, cubes, rectangles, triangles, lozenges, arches, pillars, stars, dots and checkerboards.


Wood craftsmanship in Morocco: Another form of woodcarving is what is known as the art of Moucharabieh or “Musharabia”. It dates back to the 14th century, to the time of the Umayyad dynasty, and is derived from the pulpit of the Andalusian mosque. However, the moucharabieh became more common in Fez during the Merinid era. At the time, it was called “Darbuz”, but today this word is used less and less. Its main use is to separate two adjacent rooms, or as a barrier separating the upper part of the house from the courtyard. It takes the form of decorated, studded windows made of wooden grilles with regular, adjacent rings.

The moucharabieh is characterized by a geometric surface made up of numerous star-shaped and diagonal openings. To make the moucharabieh, the maallem craftsman must include, in addition to cedar, another type of wood that has a different color from cedar. This can be either acacia, mahogany or red wood, or white wood (ivory). The purpose of this color contrast is to make the colors of the various motifs more perceptible.

Moucharabieh motifs can be found on old windows, often in the shape of cubic wood. However, during the 19th and 20th centuries, this wooden motif was gradually replaced by iron windows in Fez architecture, as they were cheaper, stronger and easier to make.

Painting on wood:

Painting on wood or “zouak” is a very popular art in Fez. The paint is applied to previously carved wood. The carpenter painter uses ingredients based on mineral and vegetable elements, and sometimes chemical powders, to produce the paint. The powders come in a variety of colors: blue, red, yellow, black… they are then mixed with egg yolk, damaged cattle hide, albumen or gold leaf. The craftsman applies this mixture to the carved piece of furniture and, once dry, adds a coat of varnish and a baked-on substance made from oil, saffron, grass and cedar.

In addition to the very authentic artistic aspect of this technique, it is also used to give it a bright, vivid hue, and to preserve it from the effects of light and humidity.

Wood inlay:

Wood inlay is an art based on the insertion of fragments, pieces of wood or bone into wood, to create a beautiful mosaic. It is common in Fez, Essaouira and Taghzout and used to decorate wooden furniture and other antiques such as jewelry boxes, benches, chess sets and gift objects.

To create a work of art using the wood inlay technique, several materials are used. Precious woods such as lemon, ebony, juniper or walnut require superior skill and high technology to master. Sometimes, the work is done under a microscope for extreme precision!

Inlays depend on different wood colors to create beautiful objects. Local woods such as cedar, pine, apricot, lemon and orange are used, along with imported materials such as mahogany and ebony, and rarer materials such as ivory and shells.

Cedar wood:

Wood craftsmanship in Morocco: In the homes of the wealthy in Morocco, handmade carpets are usually combined with inlaid furniture and other items made from thuja wood, known for its strength and durability. Many of these quaint pieces of furniture, including desks, tables of various kinds, chests, and jewelry boxes, may be found in Essaouira, which is well-known for its parquet flooring.

The city’s skilled craftsmen polish the hard cedar to a satin finish, then inlay it with cedar, lemon wood, ebony, mother-of-pearl and silver in floral and geometric patterns to bring out the subtleties of the cedar wood.

Cedar is a very precious wood, used mainly to make decorative objects. To create these masterpieces, only the root of the cedar tree is used, which limits the possibilities of creating large objects. It’s a highly coveted wood, which has unfortunately led several traffickers to over-exploit the cedar forests in Essaouira.

Marked regional specificities:

Woodworking is ubiquitous throughout Morocco, but with regional specificities. Fès, Tétouan, Salé and Meknès are renowned for their Zouak wood painting and moucharabieh. This is highly precise work in which turned pieces of wood are assembled to form geometric ensembles of great finesse. In Fez, craftsmen are well known for their ability to decorate all types of structures with cedar wood, which is abundant in the surrounding forests. Ceilings, doors and windows are made attractive by the technique of painting on wood and a type of decoration dominated by geometric figures.

In addition to painting and sculpture, marquetry and inlaying on wood of various species (lemon, oak, exotic woods and sometimes mother-of-pearl) are also Moroccan specialties. They have made Essaouira’s reputation, and objects made from them are still highly prized by tourists. Essaouira is famous for its use of thuja wood. This tree is found only on the south coast, and locals have been making good use of it for centuries.

Forest rice was the most widely used in architecture, notably in the manufacture of furniture in the city of Fès. The choice of this wood is due to its beauty and non-rotation properties. As for arar, also known for its pleasant scent, it is mainly used in the areas surrounding the cities of Rabat and Essaouira.

Issues raised:

Wood craftsmanship in Morocco: Today, woodworking poses a number of problems. Thuja provides the bulk of the lumber used by cabinetmakers. But it’s a non-renewable material, and local resources are being depleted. Added to this is anarchic use by craftsmen, who cut small pieces from a large mass of wood, wasting a considerable proportion of the raw material.

The wood industry plays an important role in Moroccan craftsmanship, architecture and furniture-making. Moroccan craftsmen have been using techniques such as carving, engraving, punching, cutting, ornamentation, painting and inlaying since ancient times. This industry has led to the emergence of specialized trades in workshops or cooperatives, such as carpentry, wood engraving and wood painting. In the souks, woodturners create table legs and kohl bottles before the eyes of passers-by.

But the most beautiful and attractive expression of wood art is to be found in mosques, Koranic schools and royal palaces, as seen in the gilded doors and ceilings bearing finely decorated motifs, the manufacture of which requires great effort and skill.

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