Monday July 22nd, 2024
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Made of Clay: The Fragile Beauty of Fayoum’s Al Nazla Village

In this riverside village, everything is made of clay. From pottery fashioned by ancient Egyptian ways to its very buildings.

Karim Abdullatif

Nestled in a natural valley in Fayoum, Nazla Village is one of the oldest villages in the world that has dedicated itself to pottery. Applying the earliest documented techniques dating back to ancient Egypt, and following traditions for thousands of years to maintain a craft that is deeply embedded within Egyptian culture and identity, the village has captured the hearts of all those who visited. Nazla Village has inspired cinematic classics such as the 1959 drama ‘Nightingale’s Prayer’, as well as a plethora of epic poems encapsulating the valley’s essence. 

For years locals have used their pottery to construct walls for shelter until Hamdy El Setouhy, an award-winning Egyptian architect who has focused on culturally significant projects (best exemplified by his role in the relocation of Abu Simbel Temple), gave Nazla Village a long-awaited upgrade. El Setouhy used the round terracotta globes produced by the villagers to design and build distinct architecture that marks the village within its valley. 

Despite having been completed for a number of years, Nazla Village continues to receive recognition, with the most recent being its shortlisting in the Adaptive Reuse Category in the 2022 Arab Architects Awards which were held in Amman, Jordan by the Association of Arab Architects. Through his design firm, Oriental Group, El Setouhy’s work follows a sustainable and sensible approach towards existing sites. Putting an emphasis on the local community and advocating their needs, a visitor centre was built using pottery to display the village’s resilience and document its history.

Within the 20 workshops present in the village, pots aren’t simply shaped but they are built by being hammered into their spherical form inside holes in the ground using straw, clay and ash. Once they dry, the pieces are finished on wheel throws to form their rims to the rhythm of the potter, which has become an instinctual process developed over generations. To give the pots and globes their final reddish hue, they’re fired at low temperatures that have minimal effects on the environment. 

Nazla’s pots are unique by the very nature of how they’re produced. The same pots were used in ancient Egypt to handle water and milk, and today they serve as aesthetic decorations and planting pots. People from around the world visit Nazla to witness the one-of-a-kind methods applied within its pottery buildings and the architect has been - rightfully - calling for the village to be registered as a heritage site.

A step in the right direction, the village has been registered by the Ministry of Housing as one of Fayoum’s ‘Buildings with Distinctive Architectural Style’. It has become the youngest building to achieve the feat, having only been fully constructed and operational for four years.


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