Moroccan Rugs – History, Evolution and Cultural Significance
Moroccan Rugs – There are certain works of art and cultural artifacts that are so carefully crafted and expressive that they instantly communicate a great deal about the people who brought them into being. Often, the types of art that a culture produces can be demonstrative of broader cultural values, norms, and characteristics. Both the function and the form of a particular artifact or work of art may offer certain insight into the lifestyle of its creators, and the finest pieces often reveal some of the more deeply entrenched perceptions and the more complex belief and morality systems that are the essence of what make a culture.
A particularly germane example of this phenomenon may be found in Morocco – a country with an ancient history that has long stood at the crossroads of the great civilizations of the Western and Near Eastern worlds.
Geographically, Morocco is extraordinarily diverse – here, snow-capped mountains, blistering deserts and serene coasts make up just a handful of its many environments. Naturally, these factors – the combined influences of disparate cultures and the radically different climatic conditions that are Morocco’s natural heritage – have resulted in a uniquely diverse nation.
However, despite this natural diversity – or, perhaps because of it – the peoples of Morocco have developed an extraordinarily rich and distinct culture all their own. Indeed, the cultural foundation of Moroccan society is supremely rich. For centuries, the artisans and craftspeople of Morocco have produced some of the most immediately recognizable and beautiful works of art in the world. Perhaps most significantly, they have created a corpus of work that is unique and culturally distinct, adding a significant amount of value and richness to the shared artistic heritage of humanity. Out of all of the different media in which Moroccan artists have worked over the centuries, perhaps the single medium which they have made their own is the Moroccan rug.
Moroccan rugs are known throughout the world, much in same vein as Swiss watches or French cuisine. This is the art form that the Moroccan people have perfected – a fact that is evident in the finest examples of Moroccan rugs. These unique and exciting creations are the product of an extraordinarily complex process of cultural development. This is something that is evident in their intriguing compositions.
Of course, it is impossible to discuss Moroccan rugs without discussing the Berber tribes. The Berbers were responsible for developing one of the most important and most recognizable styles of all the Moroccan rugs. The Berber tribes of Morocco, a historically nomadic people, have been weaving, what are now considered to be antique rugs, for over one thousand years.
Naturally, the Moroccan rugs had tremendous utility for the people who made them: they were used as bed coverings, for self-adornment, as burial shrouds and as saddle blankets. It is the varied utility of these rugs that is the true reason behind any subsequent developments in the weaving tradition of Moroccan rugs: as a nomadic people, the Berber tribes had to carefully choose how they expended their limited resources. The weaving of thick and hardy carpets, which were employed in so many different ways, represented an efficient cost-benefit relationship for the Berber people.
The Berber weavers would imbue their work with the symbols and designs that were important to their culture. As such, these carpets represent the most tangible manifestation of Moroccan cultural and heritage.
Thus, the Berber carpet weaving tradition was born and so would it continue. Significantly, artisanal Moroccan weavers would teach young apprentices everything there was to know about the craft. This naturally included the significance of certain symbols and patterns. The due diligence with which this practice was exercised has ensured the survival of this unique and dazzling art form well into the twenty-first century.
In terms of style, Moroccan rugs are just about as varied as the country’s disparate environments. However, it is the rugs and carpets from the High Atlas Mountains that have most captured the imagination of the general population.
These unique carpets are characterized by patterns of lattice work, as well as bands of thick pile. They are often minimally decorated but every motif that they chose to feature has much cultural and folklore significance.
Similarly, the historical capital of Morocco, Fez, was an important carpet-producing center. During the thirteenth century Marinid Dynasty, Fez was the home of more than one hundred dye workers and a plethora of artisanal embroidery centers.
Another important weaving center in Morocco was the city of Rabat. Rabat is a coastal city that has long been the primary port of trade for Moroccans. This is why Rabat witnessed the development of its own, subtly different style of rug. These rugs are often characterized by eccentric diamond-shaped figures and largely unadorned ivory fields. In their own unique way, they shared similarities with both High Atlas rugs and Fez rugs while remaining distinct.
An especially important development in the world of Moroccan rugs occurred during the mid-twentieth century. During this period, the craft had already been fully entrenched within Morocco for centuries. During this time, the minimally adorned and slightly eccentric carpets that were unique to Morocco came to the attention of some of the giants of the Western art and design world.
Among these design legends was Le Corbusier, the celebrated Swiss-French designer and architect. Le Corbusier, had a significant and outsized influence on mid-century modern aesthetics and sensibilities. Enamored of the minimalist, borderline abstract designs that characterized the finest Moroccan rugs, Le Corbusier famously paired these pieces with the sleek furniture that was so in vogue at that time. The superficial simplicity of the Moroccan rugs that Le Corbusier so admired made them the perfect complement to the straight lines and dramatic angles of mid-century modern furniture.
Shortly thereafter, began the tremendous demand throughout the Western world for these unique treasures of Morocco. This phenomenon continues to this day, especially in light of the renewed interest in mid-century modern design that has been developing in the early twenty-first century
Moroccan rugs represent a unique development. Not only in the world of fine rugs but in the world of cultural and artistic expression. These distinct and immediately recognizable compositions are the result of a cultural synthesis that occurred over the course of centuries, and are the easily the most representative physical manifestations of Moroccan culture.
The minimalism and abstraction that contemporary Westerners perceive in Moroccan rugs is in fact an ancient style. This style was developed by nomadic people in one of the most diverse countries in the ancient world.
The fact that these productions are so well suited to contemporary, Western interiors – thousands of miles and decades removed from the place they were originally conceived – is a testament to the enduring timeless beauty of these remarkable artistic achievements.
Decorating Your Home With a Vintage Moroccan Rug
Vintage Moroccan Rug– A new trend is taking shape. Moroccan rugs are everywhere! Pinterest, Elle Decor, Domino and beloved design blogs like Decor8 are chock full of expressive interiors tied together by the soft, warm, energetic and unusual vintage rugs of Morocco.
Although this interior design trend seems new and exciting, it’s older than anyone imagines. It’s been said that there’s nothing new under the sun, and Moroccan rugs created by Beni Ourain weavers certainly prove that ancient tribal symbols and ethnographic decorations are as modern as anything.
The trend has been growing in Australia and Europe for several years but has only recently extended firm roots in America. Design experts call Beni Ourain rugs “the new sisal”–and with good reason.
Not only are Moroccan carpets infinitely more luxurious and textural; the designs have a healthy dose of history and ethnographic charm blended with irresistible abstract details. Vintage materials and rustic handcrafted features also appeal to eco-minded consumers who want to reduce and re-use but are also inadvertently recycling a trend that’s approaching its 100th birthday.
Moroccan rugs have a natural modernity and timeless aesthetic, two essential ingredients of cyclical trends. Every decade, there’s a revival. Between the two World Wars, Bauhaus designers and Parisian decorators discovered this unique blend of originality and versatility.
Bauhaus idols Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer quickly realized that Moroccan rugs complemented their design philosophy and minimalist interiors. Later, Charles and Ray Eames outfitted their own home with large Beni Ourian / Berber carpets and sofas draped with kilims.
Decades after, celebrity decorator Billy Baldwin added a new facet by placing black-and-white Moroccan rugs with leopard-print sofas, Asian screens, a Victorian side table and traditional items that take on an exotic feel.
Today, vintage Moroccan rugs, be they Boucherouite rag carpets, monochromatic Beni Ourains, angel-hair Azilals or colorful Boujads, are as versatile, popular and well-appreciated as ever. Vintage rugs with neutral-tone decorations or vibrant color-box palettes can be perfectly modern or beautifully traditional when used as a central focal point or placed in a communal arrangement.
Likewise, their lush pile and textural flat-weave decorations have a dramatic effect when set against the stark grays of polished concrete or the warm grain of hardwood floors. After a century, this is one trend that won’t go away.
An Introduction To the Vintage Moroccan Rug World
Vintage Moroccan Rugs – The textiles and weaving from Morocco, date back to the Paleolithic era and since then have been woven primarily for necessity and practical use rather than use as a decorative object. Rural productions of rugs from Morocco are notable for their abstract, primitively modern designs which are wonderfully unique from the more elegant and sophisticated Persian rugs.
The Beni Ourain tribe wove rugs that are typically colored with neutral hues, such as off-white and shades of brown and black. However, other rugs can be more vibrant, colored with natural dyes such as henna, indigo, saffron, and madder root among others. Ancient designs have been passed down from generations of weavers, which is especially intriguing considering Beni Ourain carpets were popularized by the mid-century modern designer Le Corbusier.
The synthesis of rural, ancient rug designs beneath Le Corbusier’s contemporary chrome and leather furniture made for a surprisingly pleasing and well-matched combination. Today, those who opt for a modern design scheme would generally choose a Moroccan rug over Persian Tabriz or Turkish Oushak rugs.
Most these rugs found in homes across the world are vintage, rather than antique, as there was not much of a demand for these types of rugs before the twentieth century. Moroccan carpets have become “the rug of choice” for many interior designers as well as private consumers. They don’t have a long history and are most notable for their dynamic colorful modernist designs as well as for their strong sense of geometric structure (and abstract designs).
None so far have been dated to before the mid nineteenth century, when their production began as an adaptation of central and western Turkish rugs, whose repertoire was followed closely by the weavers in Morocco. These rugs are nevertheless distinctive in their bolder coloration, and in the more block-like geometry of their composition.
Why is it so rare to find a bigger size Moroccan rug?
The vintage, mid-century rugs from Morocco were never made in large sizes – because they had to move from place to place – the people who wove them had to keep the width to under 7′ (about), otherwise the loom would be too large and cumbersome to mount as they moved from place to place.
These rugs can be also used as transitional pieces by giving a youthful and whimsical feel to any room decor.
Decorating the home with Moroccan carpets:
The ever-changing interior design trends are in constant demand of a type of rug that can withstand the changes of taste and preference that designers and home owners have. Moroccan carpets and rugs have proven to be just the style of rug that is needed to be versatile enough to be used in various home interior design schemes across the world. With a wide array of colors and styles, it is understandable that these rugs have been some of the most popular on the market for the last century.
Indeed, the amazing versatility of Moroccan weaving is part of what makes them so special. Because of the nature of Morocco’s geography and complex history, many different groups of people in Morocco have created rugs and carpets that fall under the umbrella term “Moroccan rugs” but many of these pieces are as different from one another as can be. Thus, there is a large amount of styles and weaves in the market today, meaning that there is a piece for almost every taste and style.
Most rugs from Morocco are hand crafted by skilled weavers who have been crafting these masterpieces through the generations. Rug crafting and techniques are often passed down through families and have been used for many years. Moroccan carpets range from the rich and deep color patterns to the very pastel and minimalist.
If you have been looking for the perfect way to accentuate the design of your home, Moroccan carpets are a fabulous choice. They work well in just about any room of the home and are considerably less expensive than most other types of rugs in today’s mark – making them attainable and appreciated by people from all walks of life.
The History of Rugs From Morocco:
In the historic area encompassing the modern nation of Morocco, rugs have been produced for over a thousand years. These rugs may have a heavy pile useful for the snow capped Atlas Mountains, or they can be lightweight to suit the hot climate of the Sahara desert. These rugs were not always used solely underfoot.
The nomadic Moroccans and Berbers tribes used these pile, knotted, and flat-woven carpets as bed coverings and sleeping mats, as well as for self-adornment, burial shrouds and interior decoration and some of these rugs were also used for more practical purposes such as saddle blankets. The High Atlas region stretches across Morocco and is home to weavers who create beautiful flat- woven kilims that are characterized by lattice work, bands of thick pile and reversibility.
The designs are traditional and ancient, passed down from weaver to weaver. Elsewhere in Morocco, most major cities have a unique style or design characteristic that distinguishes their carpets. Perhaps the most important carpet- producing city in Morocco is the former capital — Fes. Fes reached its golden age during the Marinid Dynasty of the thirteenth century.
At that point, the city was home to over one hundred dye workers and thousands of artisan embroidery studios located in the city’s medina. The coastal capital — Rabat — is famous for carpets woven with floral and diamond-shaped elements, and a fairly bare field. These rugs experienced a growth in popularity in the west with mid-century modern designers–such as Le Corbusier–who paired the thick piled Berber rugs with their sleekly designed furniture. Many of these Berber carpets are woven by the Beni Ourain peoples from the Rif Mountains near Taza.
Colors vary from neutral shades to popping hues, with designs ranging from ordered geometric shapes to a more free-form, expressive pattern. Part of the appeal to the modernists was the primitiveness in the carpets. Unlike the traditional antique Oriental rugs found in western interior decoration, there is little elegance about these rugs, yet they fit wonderfully with modernist décor.
Vintage and antique carpets from Morocco are fairly popular today for their decorative flexibility and reasonable pricing as compared to other styles of antique rugs.
Since the invention of the first simple tools, the Berber tribes and nomadic tribes of Morocco and North Africa have been producing a variety of knotted, flat-woven, and pile carpets. Although the Moroccan textile industry has ancient origins, the majority of dated carpets of the region are less than three hundred years old. Due to geography, the country’s carpets have many unique characteristics and influences.
In North Africa, the climate includes arid desert in the Sahara, snow-covered peaks in the High Atlas region, and the humid Mediterranean weather near the coast. The rugs from Morocco can be defined in broad terms as urban or tribal. However, there are many carpet subs-types produced by tribes across the country that reflect influences from Jewish artisans, who fled the rule of King Solomon in 950 B.C., Moorish Arabs who dominated Northern Africa until the 15th Century, and the nearby Ottoman Empire that became a major influence in the later Moroccan carpet design.
Unlike many antique Oriental rugs and vintage area carpets with heavy wool pile, traditional rugs from Morocco are exceptionally lightweight and long. In the warm climate of Northern Africa, lightweight, flat-woven carpets were often used as comfortable bed coverings along with thick-pile sleeping mats. In some cases, traditional Moroccan carpets can be more than 14 feet long and six feet wide or large enough to cover the entire family. Moroccan carpets were used as wedding shawls, burial garments, wall hangings, horse saddles, and utilitarian items. In tribal regions, border-less patterns comprised of intricate diamonds and motifs woven in horizontal bands dominated carpet designs.
What types of rugs and textures were made in Morocco?
Weavers in the High Atlas region are famous for producing reversible flat-woven Kilims and pile rugs as well as rugs that include mixed weaving techniques. Traditionally, mixed-woven rugs from the High Atlas region include thick pile bands, borders and lattice grid work surrounding flat-woven designs.
Tribes living in the rugged terrain of the Middle Atlas region, High Atlas region, and Rif Mountains passed down ancient designs from generation to generation. Common motifs used in Moroccan tribal carpets bear an uncanny resemblance to cave paintings found throughout Europe. In the 20th Century, tribal carpet weavers in Morocco produced a carpet that was almost identical of fragments of linen found in Italy that were more than 5,000 years old.
Which cities made or sold Moroccan carpets?
In Morocco, cities located on major caravan and trade routes produced carpets with diverse designs influenced by African tribes, Ottoman traders, and traditional Anatolian carpets. Rugs produced in coastal cities like Rabat, Medina, and Salé, receive the most international exposure. Carpets produced in Rabat after the 18th Century incorporate Anatolian carpet designs originating in Turkey. Carpets from Rabat are known for floral elements and diamond-shape lozenges with pronounced borders and a relatively plain field.
The historic city of Fes was one of the most important cities in Morocco’s textile industry; according to historical evidence from the 13th Century, there were more than 100 dye workers and approximately 3,000 artisan embroidery studios located in the important trading center. In addition to black and white fibers from sheep and goats, carpet weavers used cochineal insects, madder root, indigo, henna, saffron, and native plants to produce their signature shades. Colors, patterns, and overall style can vary greatly by city, tribe and era. The combination of local tradition and outside influence is the reason traditional Moroccan carpets are so unique.
Within the world of fine rugs, the rugs of Morocco are among the most celebrated and desirable rugs of all. It is difficult to overstate the contributions to the world of rugs made by the craftspeople of Morocco, who have consistently hand-made gorgeous rugs in challenging and ways.
What is perhaps most intriguing about Moroccan rugs is the tremendous variety in both style and execution that may be found in the best pieces: because of Morocco’s uniquely disparate, heterogeneous geography – which features a vast range of snow-capped mountains as well as a massive, arid desert – rugs have been crafted by different groups of Moroccans to suit different needs.
Historical Moroccan weaving were used as saddles, blankets and as items of clothing. And while collectors and experts appreciate Moroccan carpets and rugs in all their iterations, it is the pieces made by the Beni Ourain people – a group of seventeen different tribes of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains – that are perhaps the most popular today, due to their abstract compositions and heavy pile.
Hugely popular with mid-century designers, Beni Ourain rugs are admired all over their world for their vibrant and exciting designs. The Moroccan pieces are as collectible and as beautiful today as ever, and there it is a rare rug that boasts all of the qualities possessed by the best Moroccan rugs.
Decorating your interiors with Moroccan carpets:
The term tribal or nomadic rugs immediately conjure up images of exotic Middle Eastern or Central Asian ethnography. In terms of design we tend to think of nomadic rugs as having a complex ornamental repertory of intricate geometric patterns, expressed in a palette of dark, deep colors.
One group of rugs and carpets, however, challenges all such assumptions and pre-conceptions – the rugs produced by the nomadic Berber peoples of the Atlas Mountain region of Morocco.
Four Creative Ways to Style Your Home With Moroccan Rugs:
1. Decorating For Traditional taste
The neutral visage of Beni Ourain rugs is particularly suitable for traditional and glamorous decor. Black-and-white features, a grand piano, leather smoking chairs, blue velvet and dark upholstery are exceptionally flattering against these sumptuous achromatic carpets.
However, don’t miss the opportunity to pair bright, saturated or pastel colors, Tiffany blue, lemon yellow, regal reds and unexpected tones against their neutral surface.
2. Incorporating a Moroccan rug in modernist interiors
When it comes to Moroccan weaving, specifically the Beni Ourain variety, modern is the traditional style. Mid-century and classically modern furnishings have a natural appeal when arranged around a shaggy Moroccan carpet.
The same can be said for more austere, minimalist furnishings that are softened and greatly enhanced by the organic textures and patterns that these stylish creations display.
3. Moroccan Rugs as art and Tapestries
Hanging is a marvelous, modern alternative to placing rugs on the floor alone. Moroccan Kilims and hand-woven rugs that feature colorful tufts and pile accents are well-suited for this application.
Moroccan Kilims in rich, warm tones of orange, red and brown create an exceptional backdrop for entryways and prominent furnishings. Although less traditional, the concept complements Morocco’s talent for decorating with carved screens, elaborate tiles and patterned accouterments.
4. Draping Rugs From morocco:
Adopting a pioneering style isn’t necessary when one can follow in the footsteps of great designers like
Charles and Ray Eames. The couple’s iconic Pacific Palisades Case Study home was decked out with modern furnishings and exotic collectibles that have been described as “a kaleidoscope of excess.” One of the more distinctive features, aside from their eponymous lounge chair, is the low-slung sofas and settees that are draped with colorful Kilims.
Is a Moroccan rug considered “Oriental”?
In terms of geography, Moroccan carpets can hardly be classed as Middle Eastern or Oriental. While the Berber tribes converted to Islam already in the seventh century, and while their tradition of pile rugs was inspired, initially at least, by Middle Eastern carpet production, one can hardly apply an Eastern or Oriental terminology to these carpets, which were woven well to the west of Paris. In terms of design and color as well, Moroccan carpets hardly fit the Oriental nomadic mold.
In place of the deep, reserved coloration of Nomadic Asian rugs like Turkomans or Baluches, some carpets from Morocco have riotously bright colors, while others have a cool neutral palette that that would delight the most sophisticated contemporary designer. And in place of the finely detailed and highly organized geometric repetition of Central Asian nomadic rugs, Moroccan weavings display enormous freedom and spontaneity of design, with a flair for bold graphic expressiveness, and, at times, an almost Modern sense of simplicity.
What designs and patterns can be found in a Moroccan Rug?
Rugs from morocco, especially those of the Beni Ourain tribe, seem to combine a modernist taste for minimalist linearity with the graphic symbolism of primitive art. A rug may be organized around the idea of a large linear diamond grid or lattice, although it is drawn with considerable freedom, with constant shifts in proportion. Within some of the diamonds are various linear symbols, perhaps tribal brands or markings, set against an abrashed tan ground meant to represent the desert sand. This splendid carpet has an atavistic aura, suggesting modes of expression reaching far back into the human past.
In some ways it shares the qualities of the finest African Kente cloths or raffia pile weavings of the Congo. But at the same time, its bi-chrome palette has a stridently modern quality and appeal. Another Beni Ourain, seen below, seems to be going for the same kind of effects, but in a much more free-form arrangement, with the various abstract elements or symbols strung loosely across the lovely tan surface.
All these carpets remind us that the aesthetic of tribal peoples or so-called “primitive” modes of expression can often converge with modern taste and sensibilities. Any of these carpets would fit beautifully within a modernist decorative setting. They have just enough distinction an interest to pull a room together without dominating it. Their abstract linear geometry would complement a range of contemporary furniture designs.
Those with neutral coloration would provide an excellent foil for more highly colored furnishings or paintings, just as the examples with vibrant color might complement the neutral coloration of metal or leather furniture and modern sculpture. From any point of view, the nomadic carpets of Morocco offer an enticing range of possibilities and potentials for modern interiors.
What was life like for Moroccan carpet weavers?
Wheat is the main resource for every tribe in the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic planes. These tribes continue to use the same traditional harvesting methods that have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. From the wheat, the tribes process their bounty into flour, which is used to bake fresh bread every morning.
Not only is the quality of the breed superb from years of refining the baking process, but it serves as an important source of energy.These families lives depend entirely on the earth and the weather and naturally such important aspects of their lives come through in their art, most specifically their tribal carpets and textiles.This mill from the 19th century is located in a marvelous valley home to the Beni Ourain tribes. The mill is shared by the community.
Each year, the tribes celebrate their annual olive harvest together and use this mill to process their olives into extremely high quality oil.The “Lêben” (a simple white sour cheese) is a gift from nature. Only in the spring and summer do these tribes collect the milk from their goats. This milk is very special to the tribes and is only used in small quantities as the rest is saved for goat breeding.
Honey is a rare touch of sweetness to the tough lives of these people. The process of collecting the honey is fascinating. In the winter the hives are carried to the warm valleys while in the summer the hives are brought back into the highlands where floral blooms are ample due to the thaws of the previous winter.
Everything the tribe has is made by hand. This beautiful bread dish was made with raffia that had been previously treated and died. The solar design portrayed in the dish adds personal flare to the weavers art and exemplifies the simple beauty these people draw from the everyday world around them.
The entire milking process as well as the making of the cheese is done entirely by the women of the tribe in an almost Zen-like process. There is a rhythm to their work that is a truly beautiful thing to behold and the end product is a simple delicacy that is sure to appease any palette.