All the Morocco guide books mention it: Tetouan's Ecole des Arts et Métiers (EAO in the Spanish that is still very prevalent in Tetuán: Escuela de artes y oficios).
Weekenders should abstain: you can only visit the Artisanal School Monday through Thursday. But it's worth rearranging your itinerary. Tetouan is the first (established 1919 under the Spanish Protectorate, and headed in its heyday by the Granadan artist Mariano Bertuchi) and remains Morocco's only school dedicated to teaching young people the traditional arts of woodworking, zellige, sculpted plaster, etc.
Whatever the medium (painted wooden ceilings, leather, copper and brass), the students start out with meticulous geometric drawings on paper. This discipline inculcates in the young teens the patterns recurrent throughout Islamic art.
Overseeing each workshop is the maalim, the teacher, or more accurately in this context, the skilled craftsman. Some are themselves graduates of the school, and dedicate their lives to passing on what are increasingly rare talents. Sadly, some of the workshops are silent, for lack of a maalim. Other maalim have retired, but have returned to the school to help out. These men (and women; the embroidery workshop is exclusively feminine) are national treasures.
Recently the school has welcomed a new initiative, Morocco's "Chantiers écoles," where students are given hands-on training both at the school and at historic preservation worksites. The concept is popular in the Hispanic world (escuela taller), and has recently been introduced to Morocco.
So, what's in this for us? Potentially, lots:
- As an American but also Moroccan site of historic interest, we need all the preservation help we can get.
- The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is always on the lookout for worthy beneficiaries. The Tetouan school and the Moroccan association of chantiers écoles could not only be beneficiaries, but actors in yet other preservation efforts.
- In cooperation with the Fondation Tanger al-Madina (FTAM), TALIM has encouraged the restoration of Tangier's Borj al-Hajoui, until recently a derelict Portuguese fortress, now renovated to house cultural associations. We are looking at involving our new friends from Tetouan in extending the restoration work.
This little field trip to one of Morocco's premier educational institutions – not a university, but turning out graduates who will help safeguard the country's precious cultural heritage – was the epitome of combining work and pleasure. The halls of academia ring with the sounds of hammers, anvils, trowels, and knitting needles, but the overall impact is one of serenity. One of northern Morocco's prime tourist attractions for me, and future visitors coming to see us.