The Marvelous Art of Tadelakt

Moroccan Tadelakt is considered to be one of the oldest and most treasured plaster finishes in the world. In a technique, which is believed to be about 4,000 years old, the art of Tadelakt was used as a coating in the bathrooms and hammams (a type of sauna or steam bath) of the traditional riads in Morocco. The traditional techniques of producing Tadelakt have been passed from master to apprentice through many generations and to this day there are Tadelakt artisans who continue this tradition.

Originally, Tadelakt was used by Berbers to waterproof earthen cisterns for the hygienic storage of drinking water. It was discovered that colored Tadelakt could be made with pigmented lime and applied to virtually any surface. Soon it became a highly prized surface finish that was used extensively in the riads in Morocco.

The waterproof finish of Tadelakt makes it suitable for coating bathtubs, showers, spas, countertops and washbasins. Due to its aesthetic appeal, however, it is used in a wide variety of applications which do not necessary require a waterproof finish, including fireplaces, steps, walls, decks, floors and more.

Traditional Tadelakt is produced from natural hydraulic lime found in the area of Marrakech, Morocco. The pure lime plaster, which may include fine limestone or marble sand but no other additives such as Portland cement, is compacted to eliminate any air pockets. It is then polished to a shiny finish with a river stone and finally treated with a soft natural soap, usually made from olive oil, which serves to render the surface water-resistant.

Tadelakt artisans believe that to fully appreciate the allure of Tadelakt it is necessary to caress it. The surface has been described as being as hard as stone and yet as soft as silk. Each application of Tadelakt is unique, with a shiny wavy appearance that changes and improves over time, and if properly applied, the surface develops fine hairline cracks that enhance the ancient appearance of the finish, while remaining waterproof.

The ongoing restoration of many of the riads of Morocco has brought this ancient technique back into fashion, not only in Morocco, but in other parts of the world. Artisans have traveled from other countries, including the United States, Germany and Holland, to be trained by Tadelakt masters and are introducing a little bit of exotic Morocco to homes in their own countries.