Before marble conquered the world of tiles, artisans made them with cement. That too, very skilfully. Fortunately, a few workshops in Egypt are still practicing this craft.
During the 1800s, the Greeks practiced this art and it spread to other parts of Europe and the world. As the world became urbanized, people’s taste in cement tiles shifted to something more modern by the 20th century. In the 1900s, ceramic and marble tiles flourished in Egypt, shadowing cement tiles. Naturally, cement artists went out of business.
We’re glad this art hasn’t died completely yet.
A tall, gray-haired yet strong man, Hussain is a professional cement tile maker in Cairo, Egypt. His simple workshop walls and floor are covered in dry cement from yesterday. But they’re not the only ones bearing traces of the past. Hussain’s heart bears the same too. He has been making cement tiles since he was 12 years old. That puts him 50 years into the industry!
More than a business, he considers it art. Hence, he’s an artist, not a tile maker. We love his spirit!
Hussain first sifts white cement through a sieve to discard big pieces of dirt and let only the soft white powder fall through. He then mixes powdered colors into the cement. He’s an expert at this. People say he can ‘taste’ colors, meaning he can tell you exactly what colors have been mixed to get a particular hue.
Next, he adds water and mixes the cement to a pouring consistency. Then he brings out a square-shaped mold for a square tile. He places a designer stencil on top and pours different color cement mixes into each section. Sometimes, he makes designs without stencils! He’s that skilled.
Next, he covers the mold with a square lid and places the mold under a machine for a quick squeeze. Within seconds, the tile is set.
Hussain then flips the mold to get the tile out. The finished product is a beautiful square decorated with bright colors and floral or geometric patterns.
Hussain is upset that the popularity of cement tiles has gone down. But to ensure the tradition lives on, at least for another hundred years, he offers free training to youngsters. How noble!