RAKEN Style  >  Ceramics & pottery   >  Tunisian ceramics and pottery


Clay work is one of three activities that appeared with mankind. As with textiles and leather, it is profoundly rooted in the Tunisian culture, given that the Gafsa civilisation already was in contact with Pharaonic Egypt, Greece and Persia.

Traditionally, there are two types of pottery: one “turned” by men, the other “modelled” by women. The latter is confined to rural areas and essentially utilitarian.
Throughout history, we find that “modelled” pottery in Tunisia dates back to the first ages of Neolithic. Every pottery bears forms and decorations adapted to its function; every form has a cultural value and responds to a need.

The renewal of ceramics in Tunisia came with the introduction by the Phoenicians of the potter’s lathe. Extending their tradition and under inspiration of potteries imported from other Mediterranean countries, the Punic artisans created new forms, such as the Amphora with pointed bottom, adapted for sea transport, as well as red or black varnished bowls and plates.

During Roman times, the African Sigillate was introduced, with its bright red colour and Relief or stamped decoration with floral, animal or mythological motives. 

Baked earth (terra-cotta), as a decorative element, found its best expression in the “Christian” tiles, which were Relief decorated. 
For architectural reasons, these tiles were four-angled to adapt to large wall or ceiling decorations. They owe their qualification as “Christian” to their iconographic content and to their frequent presence in Byzantine basilicas where mythological, biblical (Old and New Testament), animal, floral and geometric themes are grouped.

But it is with the arrival of Islam that Tunisian ceramics knew its blooming period; marked by the numerous forms, fancy decorations and mastership of enamelling and glazing.

The Aghlabides ceramics, with floral, animal and geometric motives announced the traditional pottery of Nabeul and Djerba.
The Fatimides ceramics mixes animal and human figures with great harmony.
With the Hafsides, the decorations got more abstract again and limited to geometric and floral motives. 

Then came the Andalus influence, with the introduction of the technique of encircling enamelled motives, which allows the production of coating tiles with poly- chromatic glaze, adorned with polygonal geometric figures. This influence gained strength thanks to the saint Abu El Kacem El Jazili, as witnessed by his mausoleum in Tunis. 

As from the 17th century, Tunisian ceramics came strongly under the Turkish influence and still today the ceramists of Tunis, who are installed at Kallaline, produce poly- chromatic ceramics reminding of those of Ottoman Turkey.

In this way each Tunisian region got characterised over time through specific type of ceramics and pottery, influenced by past civilisations:

  Guellala (Djerba) : Berber, Greek and
   Roman influence. 
  Moknine (Sahel) : Berber, Byzantine and
   Arab influence. 
  Néapolis (Nabeul) : Punic, Roman and
   Andalus influence. 
  Kallaline (Tunis) : Punic, Arab and
   Andalus influence. 

Nowadays, Tunisian ceramics experiences a revival, as the building sector gives it new strength and permits the rise of numerousartisan and industrial production units. Tunisian ceramics and pottery is no longer limited to functional use but has gained importance for the plastic artists. Whether it is “modelled” or “turned”, by craftsmen or artists, functional or decorative, Tunisian pottery is in turmoil.

It is a world in continuous development, building on a prestigious past and constantly renewed in prolific diversity.

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