Tadelakt – Timeless & Modern
Tadelakt, a traditional Moroccan lime-based plaster, is very popular for use in wet rooms, such as bathrooms and showers, but that was not always the case. Tadelakt has been around for approximately two thousand years, which, needless to say, is a very long time.
Throughout much of that time, the world was very different from what we know today, with the overwhelming majority of populations across the world being in abject poverty compared to the lifestyles than even an objectively poor person can lead in today.
So, if Tadelakt wasn’t being used to bring a touch of class to the average bathroom, what was it being used for?
Traditional Uses of Tadelakt
As you might expect, something with a luxurious quality that has been used for thousands of years was used mainly by the rich and powerful. Throughout history, Tadelakt has been used as a coating for such grand structures as palaces but was most commonly found in the bathrooms and hammams of Moroccan riads.
These days, a riad is thought of more as a hotel or guest house that has shared common areas; however, it was traditionally the name for an interior garden or courtyard. The most common place to find a riad would be within a mansion.
What is a Riad?
Riads, as mentioned above, were enclosed gardens and courtyards. The premise of building a home around an outdoor space was influenced by both ancient Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman culture, which showed through in the architecture that was used to build them. The concept was spread farther by the growth of the Islamic world, and it became important to feature plenty of greenery in your riad since it invoked images of paradise in Islamic culture.
The range of a riad garden is quite vast, from small courtyards that might house some furniture, to large, heavily planted areas that are like mini-parks in their own right.
Tadelakt in Riad Gardens
Being one of the most distinctive aspects of Moroccan architecture for so long, it should come as no surprise that Tadelakt saw lots of use in these oftentimes extravagant gardens and courtyards.
This lime-based plaster has many good properties for such a use-case. It is naturally mold resistant, breathable, and gives any surface an air of luxury. With the application of olive soap, Tadelakt can take on an almost glass-like smoothness that not only enhances the look of the plaster but also helps to seal it against moisture. This olive soap application needs to be reapplied every few years in order to keep the plaster in good shape, so there is some maintenance involved.
One of the main advantages of Tadelakt is that, due to it being a paste during the application stage, it can be applied to surfaces of any shape and size, and will leave no seams, providing much larger, unbroken surfaces than you would be able to achieve with tiles or marble, or even modern-day materials such as concrete.
Another use for Tadelakt throughout history was as the base material for elaborate motifs that are made by carving the plaster, often into symmetrical patterns.
Modern Day Uses of Tadelakt
There has been a widespread effort to restore many riads in Morocco, which has lead to a resurgence in the use of Tadelakt for more or less the same thing it was traditionally used for.
However, it has also found plenty of use in much more diverse and far-reaching situations. For example, it is very popular for bathrooms and other types of wet rooms, such as steam rooms. And, though still primarily a Moroccan plaster, it is gaining in popularity across the world as well.
The popularity of Tadelakt represents an opportunity for the Moroccan economy, as it is largely the lime found in Morocco that makes it Tadelakt.
There are other differences, of course, but on a simplistic level, there are many types of plaster that are very similar in composition to Tadelakt, with one of the most significant differences being where the lime comes from, which means authentic Tadelakt has to come from Morocco.
Given that the finish produced by this kind of plaster is unique among even lime-based plasters, let alone all kinds of plaster, it is not surprising that it would be growing in popularity.