When in Morocco…
You cannot avoid the fact that there are a lot of carpets and rugs in this country… They hang all over the souks in the Medina in Marrakesh, and each one seems different in pattern, colour and style. I spent some time at one carpet shop where the sheer amount of carpets was astounding, and it was just one of hundreds in the city and surrounding area. Rugs were stacked floor to ceiling through the whole building, and even hung on the roof.
Types of carpet
Moroccan carpets can be grouped into rural or urban, Berber or Arab. Urban carpets are influenced by the fine, oriental designs of the Middle East and are intricately detailed.
Rural Berber carpets are handwoven into abstract patterns and symbols that tell the stories of a tribe. Carpets from the Middle Atlas – zanafi – have a deep, woollen pile to keep out the cold and are usually long and narrow.
The creamy shedwi carpets of the High and Middle Atlas Beni Ourain and Beni Mguild tribes are decorated with simple black or dark brown patterns. The haouz carpets of the west, between the Atlas and the Atlantic, have free-floating shapes and bright colours. Kilims, or hanbels, from Chichaoua, are flat-woven rugs with detailed geometric designs and usually coloured in black, white and yellow on a red background. Picasso rugs are ones that can be reversed for each season and as such do not have loose threads to any side.
Berber carpets – with their unique, irreverent, free designs – are informal and fun and tend to work well in modern, western surroundings. As such, certain types of Moroccan carpet – the Beni Ourain (the fluffy white rugs) and Beni Mguild (fluffy but very colourful) in particular – have recently become the height of fashion in the west.
Symbols and patterns
The art of carpet weaving is exclusively female and influenced by pre-Islamic beliefs that are entrenched in magic and the legends of the Berber tribes. Traditionally, carpets were made solely for personal use. This means that every symbol, motif and pattern means something special to the weaver – perhaps a wish for fertility, the celebration of a marriage or birth, or an ode to the landscape of a particular region. When you buy a Moroccan carpet, therefore, you are buying a talisman and a unique story.
If you want to buy…
If you are serious about buying a carpet, you must be prepared to spend some time here, choosing what you want and negotiating the price. This is a delicate art, requiring patience, humour and a lot of mint tea. A good carpet seller will be able to tell you the detailed stories behind the patterns and motifs, making your buying experience all the more enjoyable. If you immerse yourself in the process, and stick to your budget, you will walk away not only with a carpet that you love and that didn’t cost the earth, but also with an authentic, unique piece of Moroccan folklore.