For generations, potters in the village of El Nazla have used mud carried by the Nile to make their items by hand, using techniques they believe date back to ancient Egypt.
But they say they are now struggling to preserve their craft from the pressures of inflation, pollution and modernization.
Potters manually mix clay, straw and ash in open-air workshops before firing pots in large traditional ovens fueled with wood and tires. The resulting urns and bowls are light brown in color.
“This craft is as old as the village itself,” said Hosni Ahmed, 38, who worked for 25 years as a potter in the village, located about 100 km southwest of Cairo on a canal fed by the Nile.
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In addition to seasonal drops in production due to less sunshine and more rain in winter, villagers say they are also facing higher raw material prices and lower silt quality.
“The Nile today doesn’t bring us mud like it used to,” said Hosni’s brother, Alaa Ahmed, 31. “Even when you collect the mud, it is not clean, full of sewage and garbage.”
They also say authorities have offered to modernize their crafts, suggesting using cleaner gas ovens and producing different varieties of jars to cater to pottery enthusiasts and tourists visiting the village.
“If they want to modernize, they have to treat it as a protected natural area,” Hosni said. “It’s heritage.”