The word „zellige“ in Arabic means tiles in general. They have appeared around the 10th century, most likely inspired by Roman and Byzantine mosaic. Its original meaning was "little polished stone" and their purpose was probably to imitate Greco-Roman mosaics, not by assembling pieces of polished marble, coming from distant sources, but rather using fragments of colored earthenware tiles.
The colour palette was initially limited to white and brown shades. Together with growing importance and usage, also the number of used colours expanded. All the colours had their own meaning and symbolism in Islamic culture, as well as all shapes and patterns. Just as the Europeans understood the meaning of various colours and objects in European paintings and art (in Western mural or Eastern Icon painting traditions), the muslim Arabs would understand what was being implied by the tiles and compositions. This art arose also from the need of islamic artists to create place decorations without representing living creatures, in accordance with Islamic teaching. Between 14th and 17th century, when art was flourishing, blue, green and yellow colours were added; red colour was added as the last. At the time, architecture and decoration were reaching their highest level of sophistication and zellige invaded the walls of all palaces, tombs, fountains, patios and baths. The 20th century saw new colours being introduced as glazes were imported and added to the traditional colours. Wealthy men used zellige to decorate their homes as a statement of luxury and the sophistication of the inhabitants.
Look how zellige is made...