Moroccan carpets are famous around the world. In the West, the tightly woven Berber rugs found in modern homes, cafes, and offices. Boutique home and fashion companies such as West Elm, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, and Restoration Hardware offer original Berber carpets imported from Morocco and also machine-made replicas. There are hundreds of traditional designs and colors available from Morocco. One of the most popular carpets in the West is called the Beni Ourain which is typically made of sheep’s wool and comes from the region of the Middle Atlas between Khenifra and Taza where you will find the many variations of carpets. Beni is an Arabic word that translates to ‘son of’ or people/tribe/kin, and the close proximity to which these tribes live means that their carpets are somewhat similar with subtle differences in design elements and color.
Traditional Berber carpets contain distinctive patterns and colors and are woven from sheep wool or camel hair (you can also find them made from nylon and olefin material). The materials are hand-washed and naturally dyed from saffron yellow to wild mint green, and from pomegranate and henna. These carpets are known for their strong geometric designs and have been dated them as far back as the Merinid era. Carpets in the Middle Atlas generally have a traditional diamond grid.
Moroccan Berber tribes developed a variety of weaves to be adaptable to varied climates. The rugs in Morocco’s mountain regions have larger loops, are more loosely knotted to provide protection against the cold while those in city regions are of a finer weave. The carpets in Morocco’s Middle Atlas are used as sleeping mats yet in mild climates knots tend to be 2cm high.
Berber weaving is highly dependent on the female culture and is passed down traditionally within the home. The young apprentice is expected to learn the different looping techniques, patterns, color ranges, and motifs. Historically women wove carpets for their families, and men traditionally produced carpets that were more specialized as professional masterweavers. These inspiring designs have been the motivation for more modern carpet fabrication.
In the Imperial Cities of Morocco and in many developing countries, carpets were historically a preferred gift to give to people in elite social classes and were also used to adorn palaces and other sacred spaces. The more urban carpets have also been used at prayer mats and rugs in the hammam. Travelers who are interested in Berber carpet weaving can visit a Moroccan Weavers Cooperative, and see a Berber Carpet Demonstration or consider traveling on a Morocco private tour to Berber Villages where they can see carpets woven first hand.
Berber Haouz Carpets originating in the hills and plains of the Haouz region do not tend to follow traditional designs or rules. In this region, the weavers stress the freedoms of the individual throughout the composition. The carpets have a distinctive style and are often captivating works of art. Carpets the Haouz tribes are made by those who live in the province of Tahanout, outside in the rural region of Marrakech within the Ourika Valley, Asni, and Amizmiz. Haouz Berber carpets can be purchased locally or in Moroccan souks.
The bold colors, in-depth patterns, and weaving techniques of different regions have their own distinct style. Each tribe has a signature pattern and commonly unfold a story, revealing acts of the ceremony, or designs that often relate to fertility and protection. Like any other type of abstract art, interpretations can be better guided with additional knowledge of the culture, songs, and legends.