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Photos: Tunisia’s coppersmiths put a shine on Ramadan


The eve of Ramadan is a hectic time for Tunisian coppersmith Chedli Maghraoui, who skillfully gives families’ favorite kitchenware a new shine before the Muslim holy month begins.

From couscous pots to much-loved tea sets, the metalwork gets a polish from the 69-year-old craftsman who works alone in his workshop in the medina (old city) of Tunis.

It’s busy in the pre-Ramadan rush hour, so much so that he has to politely refuse some customers: “I can’t – I have other orders and, as you can see, I work alone.”

Maghraoui scrubs items and uses a method known as thermal tin plating, in which he coats the copper with a thin layer of tin to stop metal oxidation, leaving the pots shining like new.

While restoring a cherished pewter piece, he ignites a furnace fire that heats a pan with the item in it before brushing it and dipping it into a large bucket of water.

Tunisian women often receive copper or white copper gifts when they marry, or inherit their mother’s things. Many bring their beloved heirlooms to Maghraoui to protect them a little longer.

“The tradition reminds me of good times as a child when my mother prepared for the holy month,” says Sana Boukhris, 49, an accountant.

“There is blessing in these things that I inherited from my mother.”

Cracked skin

Dalila Boubaker, a housewife, said she could only afford to polish two pots for Ramadan this year as households across Tunisia struggle with inflation and high unemployment.

“Everything has become so expensive”, Boubaker sighed.

Abdejlil Ayari, who spent 48 of his 60 years as a coppersmith in the medina, said the run-up to Ramadan is always intense.

“People are preparing to have their kitchenware treated before Ramadan so that the kitchen looks good and women enjoy their pans,” he said.

There’s also a brisk trade for fine old pieces at the Souk En-Nahhas (copper market), where some 50 shops sell refurbished coffee makers, teapots, incense burners and cups.

The demand is so great that “we are no longer taking orders,” said Mabrouk Romdhane, 82, who owns three shops in the market in the heart of the medina.

Ayari said he learned the trade from his father before he was even a teenager, but he now worries that few young people want to follow in his footsteps.

Maghraoui, who bought his studio 20 years ago from someone who inherited it but didn’t want it, agreed.

“Every death among my colleagues is a loss to this profession and a step towards its disappearance,” he said.

Maghraoui held out his palms, skin cracked and blackened by his craft, and said, “This generation wants an easy job and doesn’t like having this.”


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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