Moroccan carpets, also known as Moroccan rugs, are a type of handmade woolen rug or carpet that are traditionally made by the Berber tribes of Morocco. These carpets are known for their unique designs and patterns, which often feature bold geometric shapes and vibrant colors.
These carpets are typically made using a weaving technique known as the “Berber knot”, which is a type of hand-knotting that creates a dense and durable pile. The wool used to make these carpets is typically sourced from local sheep and is known for its softness and durability.
Moroccan carpets have been produced in the country for centuries, and have long been prized for their beauty and quality. Today, Moroccan carpets are popular all around the world and are considered to be one of the most iconic examples of traditional Berber craftsmanship. They are often used to add warmth, texture, and color to a room, and can be found in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and colors to suit any taste or decor.
General introduction about Moroccan carpets and rugs
Carpets and rugs have long been an integral part of human existence not only in Morocco but the whole world. The use of wool extends back thousands of years and is thought to have originated in China and Persia. The earliest evidence of the knotted carpet goes back to the fifth century BCE in Siberia. The advent of this method on a global scale correlates with the production of wintertime floor decorations and blankets.
This floor covering made of sheep’s wool would become a common and usual item throughout time, but it would retain the polished and proud cultural distinctions of its designers. So, in Morocco, both in the imperial towns and the Berber territories, the carpet has become an art form that stands alongside the great weaving traditions of Europe, Persia, Asia, and the East.
The development of Moroccan carpets and rugs
This carpet weaving has been developed in Morocco according to two distinct traditions. Rugs woven in places such as Rabat, Fes, and Mediouna clearly display their oriental origins, which emerged towards the conclusion of the opulent Andalusian era. When Muslim artists from Spain were forced to migrate to Morocco in the 15th century. The classic Berber carpet seems to have ancient origins. Many millennia-old rock carvings are prevalent in the southeastern part of Morocco and correspond with several traditional patterns.
The majority of the carpets and rugs you’ll see in stores are created by one of the forty-five various Berber tribes that inhabit Morocco. Every Berber rug from Morocco is hand-woven on a loom and has a distinctive design. It is mostly done by women in their spare time. Rugs may take anything from 10 days to six months to create, depending on their size, intricacy, and the amount of available time. Rugs are primarily used in households or for special occasions. They are then sold as merchandise or exchanged.
When you go to Morocco and want to purchase a rug (or Zerbiya – the Arabic term), keep the following in mind.
Berber Moroccan carpets and rugs
Women of nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples pursue the ancient rural craft of weaving, also known as Azetta. The art of the Berber tribes is a natural phenomenon. Each tribe, originating from one of the three major Berber tribes (Masmouda, Zénètes, and Sanhadja), has established a distinct aesthetic and technical style in the weaving of its rugs and carpets throughout the course of its history and migrations. Weaving, which is more than a functional art, has become the flag of tribes’ names, expressing their individual features, such as their simplicity, rusticity, and sobriety, as well as their good-humored and almost naive sad vivacity.
In contrast to oriental-style carpets, Berber rugs are woven based only on the imagination of the lady who creates them, making each one unique.
The Berber carpet is mostly the work of Berber women, who reside in the rural areas and Atlas Mountains of Morocco. From mothers to daughters, they transmit weaving skills such as designs in which abstract and mysterious geometry is interwoven with symbols of Tifinaghe, the traditional writing of the Amazigh people, or even with universal imagery reflecting scenes from everyday life (animals, birds, camels, etc.).
For these Berber households with a nomadic and pastoral background, carpet weaving is an essential occupation. This becomes one of their primary revenue sources.
The different Berber Carpets and rugs in Morocco:
Lastly, the Berber carpet is a profound and genuine echo of the lands that have welcomed these people for millennia, becoming, through time and particularly since their settlement, the mirror of their identity.
Hence, the art of Berber carpet differs from the many Moroccan provinces situated surrounding the Atlas Mountains:
- The carpets of the Middle Atlas mountains’ tribes, the region of Meknes and Rabat: Tribes of Zemmour, Zaer, Zaiane, Bani Mtir, Ait Sgougou, Beni Mguil …
- The carpets of Beni Ouarain in the Middle Atlas Mountains, are large white carpets with fine black or brown geometric patterns.
- The carpets of the High Atlas mountains tribes and Djebel Siroua.
- The carpets of the Anti Atlas mountains’ tribes.
- The carpets of Al-Haouz of Marrakech, a carpet of the rural tribes of Rehamma, H’mar, Oulad Bousebaa, Ahmar, and Chiadma.
Carpets and Rugs of Djebel Siroua, Morocco
Between Tazenakhte and Taliouine, 85 kilometers south of Ouarzazate, is one of the most important cradles for the manufacturing of Berber carpets. This is the region of the At Ouaouzguite confederation, which encompasses the Jebel Siroua and is home to the Amazigh inhabitants of the High Atlas.
The Masmouda and the Sanhadja are two of the Amazigh root groupings that comprise these tribes. These diverse tribes, once nomads, have long since settled down while maintaining their pastoral activities.
Emblematic of the High Atlas, At Ouaouzguite rugs have traditionally been valued for their flexibility and lightness owing to the quality of their wool, as well as for the brightness of their colors based on natural dyes that weavers continue to master. Often, these carpets have an extended design to accommodate the dimensions of the living rooms for which they are meant.
Ait Ouaouzguite carpets and rugs
At Ouaouzguite rugs are distinguished by their use of a broad decorative repertoire consisting of many symbols and other diverse designs.
Long ago, these carpets were known as Glaoua carpets, derived from the name of the family of the great cads who ruled the whole South East area of Morocco from the middle of the nineteenth century until the country’s independence. So, we can detect geometric patterns on the carpets woven in these regions that were also employed on the exterior of the many Kasbahs constructed and inhabited by these leaders, such as the Kasbahs of Telouet, Tifoultoute, and Taourirte.
Ouaouzguite carpets are characterized by the following weaving technique:
- On two chains, the Tazerbite weaves with a symmetrical knot.
- The Glaoua carpets of the High Atlas are created using a combination of three techniques: knotting, flat weaving, and cords.
- The Zanifi are tapestry and cords flat weavings that were formerly used to convey grain.
Where do the colors in the Moroccan carpets come from?
In the past, Berber women dyed the wool themselves using plants and mineral products. The tradition stipulated that the weaver who had to carry out the dyeing operation had to purify herself beforehand by taking a ritual bath.
- Yellow is obtained from a kind of broom called Achfoud which grows wild in the Siroua massif. The yellow flowers of this shrub are picked and dried in the sun to be used as a dye. A mordant is used to fix the color of the woolly fiber. It is Alum, locally called Azarif, a mineral also found in the Siroua.
- The red is obtained from madder, called Taroubia and which grows wild in the region. The roots of this plant are taken and dried in the sun to be used as a dye. Alum is still used as a mordant.
- Blue is obtained from the indigo tree, called Nila, whose stem reaches 80 cm in height.
The use of other complementary products made it possible to better prepare the dyeing recipes. Thus, Henna, grown in the Draa Valley, was very often used, as well as crushed apple tree bark, dried date pulp, turnip, dried fig, but also forge slag, lampblack, or slaked lime.
What do the symbols in the Moroccan Berber carpets and rugs stand for?
The decorative motifs used are the expression of the culture of the tribe of the craftswomen. These motifs and symbols are linked to the spirit of cohabitation that has always existed in these Amazigh tribes since a distant history with people of different beliefs and civilizations (Muslims, Jews, Berbers, Christians).
Berber carpets are thus the most striking example of a spirit of tolerance and coexistence.
The decorative designs of Ouaouzguite carpets present a wide range of motifs and symbols. To the classical geometrical patterns are added floral or animal designs, figures representing the natural environment, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Many of the symbols on Moroccan carpets and rugs have their origin in sexual symbolism. They represent in different ways the woman, the man, the meeting of the two sexes, marriage, love, the beloved, then pregnancy, childbirth, and life.
The meaning of the carpets’ symbols:
The female symbols are the most numerous and often the most recognizable. They have been the same since the Paleolithic period:
- The X sign expresses a female body ready to conceive.
- The chevron is close to the X sign symbolizing the spread legs.
- The rhombus represents the mother’s womb.
The male symbols are less visible because they generally frame the female motifs. They are generally motifs in bands or bars:
- The cross is the sign of mating, while the double-hooked diamond is one of the most common symbols of birth.
- The teapot in profile, often in the middle of the carpet, refers to the hospitality and friendliness of the Berber tradition.
- The butterflies are represented by two triangles but also the flowers and stars represent feminine beauty.
- A zigzag line often surrounds the carpet and represents rivers, snakes, or the family.
- The Berber cross, often in the middle of the carpet, recalls the architecture of the kasbahs.
Tips on buying your Moroccan carpet or rug!
1. Negotiate the price!
If you missed this, bargain for your rug.
Don’t accept the shop’s pricing. Fixed-price stores are rare. Bargain first.
This game involves haggling. The salesman knows you won’t (shouldn’t) take his initial offer. Many fear getting too low. Relax. Start by lowering it by 2/3.
Expect to meet 50% of the initial fee. Leave if 50% off the original price is out of your league. Some stores don’t negotiate. This will be stated upfront. Accept it or not.
You shouldn’t cancel a pricing agreement. It’s rude to back out after committing. Before agreeing, be sure. It’s verbal, but no contract.
Even if the salesman seems outraged, you won’t offend them. Don’t be harsh, but create a bargain that benefits both of you.
2. Act Disinterested!
Don’t let the merchant know or you’ll lose a major negotiation advantage. Be casual. Look through more rugs to choose your favorite. Walk away, too. Moroccan carpets are unique, but the dealer will often lower the price or match your offer after you leave.
If you seem highly interested and need a certain rug, the salesman will be less flexible with cost. They’ll realize that you desire it and will pay extra.
3. Rug Selection
Rug shopping may be intimidating. There are so many options that they start to melt together. You may also be shown rug types you don’t like, but they keep piling up on the floor and in your head, confusing you. Tips for finding the appropriate rug without going crazy!
Know your color preferences. If you detest orange carpets, tell the merchant. If you require blue carpeting, tell them immediately.
Start by selecting rugs you like. The seller will put down rug after rug. Stop when you’re unsure. Ask to remove the carpets you dislike and put the “maybes” aside. After removing the carpets you don’t like, have them lay out the ones you prefer. This makes it easy to determine what could work.
Remember that the rug’s viewing room is likely to be much larger than its homeroom. It may “appear little” on the vast floor yet be perfect for your house.
After sorting through the maybe pile, determine whether you want to see more or make a choice.
If you wish to view more, let the dealer know whether you prefer a certain rug style or want to see something else.
Open communication helps both you and the merchant locate the correct carpeting. A decent beginning point helps everyone in settings with thousands of carpets.
You should also know your rug budget, at least roughly.
If you don’t know the difference, don’t accept a shop’s claim that a carpet is an authentic Moroccan rug. The “aging” carpet business sells antiques. If you truly want to acquire an antique you need to be sure to complete your investigation, so you know what you’re receiving. It’s unlikely you’ll discover carpets older than the 1920s or 1930s there.
They fade and fray even in good condition. Rugs are functional, not ornamental. A fading “antique” rug in great shape is unlikely.
Be cautious if you don’t know what you’re getting and don’t have much knowledge with vintage carpets. As with anything if you don’t know what you’re getting you can’t properly estimate the worth of that item. Instead of investing, buy something you love.
5. The Fire Trial
Moroccan carpets are wool. One technique to know whether you’re buying a genuine wool rug or a fake is to hold up a lighter to one of the loose edges. Wool doesn’t ignite or extinguish itself. Synthetic if it burns. Odds are if you bring out a lighter and it’s phony after the dealer has informed you it’s legitimate he’ll feel rather concerned.
6. Investigate Your Surroundings
If you’re uncertain, spend hours in rug stores. Explore what you enjoy.
Before asking about costs, discover something you like.
If you can’t decide at a store, put aside some products you like and start asking for the price. Visit a fixed-price store if you’re uncertain about rug prices. Larger cities have artisan centers.
Marrakech’s Ensemble Artisanal sells all kinds of artisan crafts at a predetermined price. Go about, check prices, and enter the souks (or pay the set charge). This will show you prices sans sales tactics.
The traditional process of the Carpet weaving
Carpet weaving is nourished by a whole series of rituals and practices.
From shearing to warping, the wool is treated with care and worked according to a ritual that is passed on from generation to generation. After shearing, the wool is left in a discreet corner of the house.
The day before the dyeing operation, the women expose the different baths to the light of the stars to chase away the evil forces. The weaver fumigates the wool ready to be dyed and hides it from view, then she purifies herself as she does for her daily prayers.
The next day at dawn, the weaver returns to the bath to begin the hanging after saying “Bismillah” (In the name of God).
Once the carpet is finished on her loom, the cutting of the warp of threads that structures it gives rise to various rituals. Often only the weaver can perform this operation, as the door must remain closed until the end.