A common theme throughout Tunisian crafts is the geometric and abstract patterns. Whether it is hand-painted tiles, woven carpets, mats, copper trays or pottery, the patterns recur. This is because Islam forbids images, so repetitive patterns and shapes are the only way to express artistic creativity.
Tunisia produces some truly beautiful pottery, from decorative plates and vases to huge urns. The main centres of excellence are at Nabeul, Guellala on Jerba and Moknine near Monastir. The traditional colours are blue paint on awhite background. This same blue and white can also be seen on the fabulous hand painted tiles. Some designs are traditional Berber patterns which can also be seen on carpets and rugs.
Sidi Bou Said has some lovely artisan stalls and beautiful wooden boxes made of marquetry are skillfully made. Different wood veneers are chosen in a range of colours and the tiny pieces are put together like a jigsaw to create designs on boxes of all shapes and size. Copper and brassware is also popular in Tunisian homes. The craftsmen will trace the designs onto the tray or tabletop then tap the designs out point by point.
Beautiful hand-knotted carpets and rugs take many hours to produce. The centre where most of these carpets are made is Kairouan. Women and girls often work at home producing high quality work in silk or wool. Authentic rugs should have a seal on the back showing the knot count. The best silk rugs will have up to 250,000 knots per square metre which accounts for the high price. A cheaper option is a woven floor mat. These are called Mergoums and are often brightly coloured and attractively decorated.
The other place to see Tunisian arts and crafts is in old palaces and homes. Although the exterior would be plain, the inside décor would include inlaid marble floors, faience tiling, while coffered ceilings would be beautifully painted. Visit the arts and crafts museum in Sfax to see more traditional crafts in their rightful setting.