Zellige Tile Backsplash Glossy Handmade Tiles with Slightly Rough Texture

A zellige tile backsplash can add beautiful visual interest and texture to any kitchen or bathroom. Zellige tiles are handmade Moroccan terra cotta tiles that have been used decoratively for centuries. Their glossy glazed surface and slightly rough handmade texture give them a unique rustic yet refined look. Installing a backsplash made of zellige tiles is a great way to incorporate color, pattern and texture into your space in a stylish way.

What are Zellige Tiles?

Zellige tiles are handmade terra cotta tiles that originate from Morocco. They are made from natural clay which is shaped and fired by hand using traditional methods that have been passed down for generations. Authentic zellige tiles have slight imperfections that give them their unique organic look.

The term “zellige” comes from the Arabic word “az-zalaq” which means polished stone. But despite their name, zellige tiles have a matte, non-polished surface. They are covered with a glossy colored glaze which gives them their saturated look. The colors and glazes help make each zellige tile unique.

In addition to their color, zellige tiles are distinguished by their shape. The most common shape is the square tile, but they also come in triangular, hexagonal and octagonal shapes. Zellige tiles range in size from 2 inches to over 12 inches across.

Beyond color and shape, the handmade texture of zellige tiles sets them apart. The clay has a slightly rough, organic texture that comes through even after the glaze is applied. This gives zellige tiles more depth and visual interest than machine made ceramic or porcelain tiles.

History and Tradition of Zellige Tiles

Zellige tiles hold an important place in Moroccan artistic and architectural tradition. Their use dates back over 600 years to the 14th century. At that time the ruling dynasties used zellige tilework to decorate and beautify important buildings.

Regional variations in color and design emerged over the centuries. Cities known for zellige tiles include Fez, Meknes, Marrakech and Tetouan. Master tilemakers in each city developed their own patterns, colors and techniques. For example, tiles from Tetouan are known for their bright blue colors.

Making zellige tiles was historically a respected art form passed down from generation to generation. The process involved mining and purifying the clay, hand molding the tiles, hand cutting geometric patterns, glazing and intricately arranging the tiles into mosaics.

Zellige tiles remain an important part of Morocco’s cultural heritage today. Their use has expanded from palaces, mosques and hammams to residential homes. Zellige tiles can be found decorating walls, floors, pools, fountains and more throughout Morocco. They are also growing in popularity worldwide as an elegant and unique decorative element.

Benefits of a Zellige Tile Backsplash

Installing a zellige tile backsplash is a great way to add visual wow factor to your kitchen or bathroom. Here are some of the benefits of using zellige tiles for your backsplash:

Color and Pattern: Zellige tiles come in a diverse range of colors from soft neutrals to bold saturated hues. Their multi-shaped design allows you to create stunning geometric patterns or mosaics on your backsplash. The color and pattern options are endless.

Texture: Handmade zellige tiles have slightly uneven surfaces that create depth and dimension. The organic texture gives the tiles more character than machine made tile. The glossy glazed surface also interacts beautifully with light.

Durability: Quality zellige tiles are very durable despite their handmade nature. The terra cotta clay is fired at high temperatures making it very hard. The exterior glaze also helps protect it from moisture and staining. Zellige tiles can last decades with proper care.

Easy Maintenance: The glazed surface of zellige tiles prevents most stains from setting on the surface. They can easily be cleaned with mild soap and water. Resealing them every few years will keep them looking fresh.

One-of-a-Kind Look: No two zellige tiles are exactly alike due to the handmade fabrication process. This gives zellige backsplashes a truly unique look that can’t be replicated with mass produced tile. It adds artistic flair and charm to any space.

Design Flexibility: Zellige tiles can work with almost any design style from traditional to contemporary. Their handmade look gives them broad appeal. They also come in shapes that allow flexibility in design.

Ideas for Pattern and Color Combos

One of the best parts of designing a zellige tile backsplash is choosing how to arrange the colors and patterns. The options are limitless, but here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing:

Colorful Moroccan mosaic: Select tiles in 3-5 vibrant colors like turquoise, navy, yellow, green and terracotta. Arrange them in a mix of stacked and staggered rows to create a lively Moroccan mosaic effect.

Tonal neutrals: Stick to soft neutral tones like beige, cream, grey and white. Use a mix of shapes for subtle interest. The neutrals will act as a soothing backdrop.

Bold diamond pattern: Alternate rows of medium blue squares and white diamonds. The contrast will make the geometric pattern pop.

Traditional blue & white: Go classic with rows of blue and white squares or hexagons. Varying the position of the tiles prevents it from looking too uniform.

Warm terra cotta: Choose orangey terra cotta tiles in squares, triangles and octagons. The earthy tone and shapes have rustic charm.

Three blues: Use three shades of blue tiles – light, medium and dark. Arrange them in sections or stripes to create modern flair.

Moroccan stripes: Stack square green tiles with navy blue triangles to mimic a Moroccan wedding blanket pattern.

Geometric white: Create a graphic look using only white tiles in squares, hexagons and triangles. The shapes provide the visual interest.

Vintage vibe: Mix terracotta, sage green, brick red and sky blue tiles randomly for an eclectic vintage aesthetic.

Designing Your Zellige Tile Backsplash Pattern

Once you’ve settled on your tiles, the fun part begins – deciding on your pattern. Follow these tips to design your dream zellige tile backsplash:

  • Take measurements of the backsplash area so you know the space you’re working with. Having graph paper handy can help map out patterns.
  • Lay out loose tiles on the floor or table to experiment with arrangements before installing.
  • Balance busier patterns with plain tiles to create visual resting spots.
  • Vary tile orientation by stacking some vertically and laying others horizontally or diagonally.
  • Mix and match tile shapes for modern asymmetrical designs or stick to one shape for traditional patterns.
  • Consider making a focal point with special tiles like a medallion or border.
  • Align tiles so the grout lines create a clean grid rather than random grout cracks.
  • Step back frequently to check that the pattern looks cohesive from a distance.

Taking the time to thoughtfully design your backsplash will result in a custom look you’ll enjoy for years to come. Professional Moroccan tile setters are also available if you want an authentic installation.

Perfect Spaces for a Zellige Tile Backsplash

A zellige tile backsplash brings a touch of Moroccan style and sophistication to any space. Here are some of the most popular places to install a zellige backsplash:

Kitchen backsplashes – A zellige backsplash instantly becomes a stunning focal point in the kitchen. Position it behind the stove or sink for high visual impact. Pair with white cabinetry and countertops for a classic look.

Bathroom backsplashes – Add color and pattern to neutral bathrooms with a zellige backsplash behind the vanity, tub or shower. The tiles’ durability makes them ideal for moisture-prone areas.

Fireplace surrounds – Highlight a living room fireplace with a mosaic zellige tile surround. The colors dance in the firelight for mesmerizing effect.

Pool waterlines – Line the perimeter of a pool with zellige tiles for spectacular shimmering color. Their glazed surfaces are perfect for water.

Accent walls – Install zellige tile on a focal living room, bedroom or dining room wall. Leave the other walls neutral for the tiles to pop.

Stair risers – Run zellige tiles vertically along stair risers or wrap them around staircase landings. It adds an artistic touch and safety grip.

Countertops – For a seamless look, create zellige countertops matching your backsplash. Use multiple small tiles for better durability.

Foyers and entryways – Welcome guests with a stunning zellige tile entry floor or wall. It immediately sets the scene.

Patios, terraces and porches – Bring zellige tiles outside to adorn outdoor living spaces. They stand up well to the elements.

Design Styles for Zellige Tiles

From traditional to modern, zellige tiles can work in a wide range of design aesthetics:

Moroccan style – Embrace exotic Moroccan style with vibrant colors, intricate patterns and ornate architectural details. Lanterns, carved wood and lush greenery enhance the theme.

Eclectic – Mix zellige tiles with other global motifs like Mexican talavera, Italian marble mosaics or Turkish Iznik tiles. Express your wanderlust!

Modern – Streamline the look by limiting to a muted color palette of neutrals and pale blues. Pair with sleek decor in gray, white and black.

Farmhouse – For casual farmhouse style, install zellige tiles in cream, beige and brick red. Add antique brass hardware and exposed beams.

Traditional – Use classic blue, green and white patterns. Coordinate with Persian rugs, velvet furniture and gilded mirrors for traditional elegance.

Bohemian – Select a riot of zellige colors and patterns. Accent with houseplants, woven textiles and artwork for bohemian chic.

Spanish Revival – Stick to warmer terra cotta shades. Wrought iron, arched windows, wood beams and stucco walls enhance the Mediterranean vibe.

Contemporary – Limit to a subdued neutral palette. Pair with modern furniture and stainless steel for sleek contemporary style.

Best Practices for Installing a Zellige Backsplash

Once you’ve designed your dream backsplash, it’s time to install it. Follow these best practices to ensure your zellige tiles look beautiful and last:

  • Hire an experienced tile setter if you don’t have tiling experience. Zellige tiles take skill to install properly.
  • Make sure the wall surface is smooth and dry before applying tile mortar. New drywall should be primed first.
  • Use a latex modified thinset to adhere the tiles so they don’t slide down the wall. Allow it to get tacky before applying tiles.
  • Double check tile spacing as you go so the pattern remains straight and even. Use tile spacers between tiles.
  • Arrange tiles evenly so there are no awkward slivers or uneven gaps at the edges.
  • Carefully cut border and edge tiles using a wet saw or tile nippers to get a precise fit.
  • Grout tiles after they fully set, usually after 24 hours. Use unsanded grout and seal it afterwards.
  • Caulk where the backsplash meets countertops or fixtures. This allows for normal movement and prevents cracks.

Following best installation practices will help your zellige backsplash look stunning for many years. Take your time and don’t rush the process.

Caring for Zellige Tile Backsplashes

Zellige tile is very durable, especially when properly sealed. But like any surface, it does require some periodic care and maintenance. Here are some tips for keeping your zellige backsplash looking its best:

  • Reapply grout sealer every 1-2 years to protect from stains.
  • Use pH neutral gentle cleaners only. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Seal the tiles themselves every 3-4 years to prevent moisture damage.
  • Wipe up spills promptly to prevent staining of the grout lines.
  • Don’t use abrasive scrub brushes or scouring pads which can dull the finish.
  • Use a soft cloth or sponge and mild soap and water for regular cleaning.
  • Check for any cracked or damaged tiles and replace them promptly.
  • Inspect grout lines for cracks and re-grout if necessary.
  • Don’t let moisture issues like leaky fixtures linger and damage the tile.

With just simple periodic sealing and cleaning, a quality zellige backsplash can remain in great shape for decades to come. The minimal maintenance is worthwhile to enjoy their beauty.

Zellige Tiles Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are zellige tiles suitable for flooring?

A: Zellige tiles can be used on floors but their handmade terra cotta composition makes them less durable for high foot traffic than ceramic or porcelain floor tiles. They work best on backsplashes, accent walls and low-use floor surfaces.

Q: What type of tile mortar should be used to install zellige tiles?

A: A latex or polymer modified thinset mortar is recommended for installing zellige tiles. The additives make the mortar more flexible and prevent the tiles from sliding down the wall.

Q: How are zellige tiles cut to fit?

A: The best tool for precisely cutting zellige tiles is a wet saw with a diamond blade. The water prevents overheating and chipping. Tile nippers can also be used for hand cutting small pieces to fit.

Q: Can you use real zellige tiles or are reproductions better?

A: Genuine zellige tiles handmade in Morocco provide the most authenticity. But some American companies manufacture good quality reproduction zellige tiles that are more affordable.

Q: What type of grout should be used with zellige tiles?

A: Unsanded grout is best for filling the seams between zellige tiles. It effectively fills small joints while sanded grout can scratch the softer tiles. Match the grout color to the lightest tile.

Q: How are zellige tiles made?

A: Zellige tiles begin with natural terra cotta clay that is wedged and formed by hand or pressed in a mold to shape. The tiles are dried, then hand-glazed and fired in a kiln. The glaze colors and firing give them their unique finish.


A backsplash featuring vibrant zellige tiles can bring irresistible Moroccan style to your living space. Their colorful, handcrafted look infuses warmth, artistry and character into any room. With endless options for patterns, colors and designs, you can create a truly one-of-a-kind focal point. Installing zellige tiles is a worthwhile investment that you’ll enjoy for many years with proper care. Let your imagination run free as you design the zellige tile backsplash of your dreams!






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