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History of Moroccan Rugs

Morocco is considered as the western edge of the Arab world. As is the case with every edge of an empire in the past, it was home to the most rugged elements of the parent culture. Morocco was home to intrepid explorers and the most exotic combinations of local and distant culture.

The indigenous peoples of Morocco (and northern Africa as a whole) are the Berber people. One of the traditions of the Berber people that thrived during the Islamic conquering of North Africa in the seventh century was making rugs.

Berber rugs and carpets have become a unique style of weave used when making carpets that date back thousands of years to the indigenous peoples of Morocco. Many consider Berber to be among the most luxurious types of floor covering in the world.

As Islam began to spread to Maghreb (what we now know as Morocco) during the seventh century, many Berbers were converted to Islam and provided social and military aid to the caliphate.

The Arabs shared several attributes with the Phoenicians of old. They enslaved Berbers and treated them as if they were lower-class Muslims. That treatment inevitably led to revolt under a sect of Islam that offered a culture more egalitarian in nature.

The Muslim Berbers invaded the Iberian Peninsula and one can still see the relationship between the Islamic Arab culture and the indigenous Berber culture to this day. As northern African countries began to gain independence from the European colonists, they codified Arabic as the official language; but Berber is now an official language of Morocco. It is even a mandatory subject for schoolchildren in the country to learn.

old woman weaver
Old photo of Berber woman weaving a new rug

So, what does this incredibly complex history have to do with Moroccan rugs? Well, there are a number of ways in which one can see the history of the Berber culture in their weaving and their rugs. As the Berber culture was mostly based on herding, they had plenty of access to the wool needed for weaving and the plants that were used to create dyes.

Every individual Berber tribe had their own images and designs; their own colors and names for their rugs. The influx of all the different cultures and peoples from the Arab worlds and the Mediterranean introduced different styles and colors to differentiate traditional Berber works from this international influence.

The differences between the Urban (Arab and International) and Rural (traditional and local) Berber rugs are well defined. It can still be noticed in the imagery and design of these rugs.

Berber carpets only became popular in the American and European markets recently, so the authenticity of their design and manufacture is more intact than with other styles of rugs. Berber and Moroccan rugs have managed to not be affected by the commercialization – and mass-production – of designs from around the world.

The urban examples of Moroccan rugs have influences from Anatolia and the Middle East and they show pile and flat weave techniques. These rugs were designed for use in the homes of western Arabs. The rural rugs, on the other hand, were designed for – and used by – nomadic peoples.

They were to be laid down on the earth and their weave depended on the environment the people who made the rugs lived. They still have the colors and patterns of the specific tribes, and it is possible to trace back their lineage to those tribes.

Berber carpets have become synonymous with high quality, durable weaving techniques. Berber is mentioned by name in a number of TV shows and movies to let audiences know about the quality and heritage on screen.