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The history of Moroccan berber rugs

In the historic area encompassing the modern nation of Morocco, the tradition of rug-making dates back thousands of years to the Paleolithic Era. The early adoption of rug-making by native Moroccans is certainly due in large part to the distinctive climate of the region: Moroccan rugs may be very thick with a heavy pile, making them useful for the snow-capped Atlas Mountains; or they may be flat woven and light as to suit the hot climate of the Sahara desert.

The nomadic Moroccans and Berber tribes used these pile, knotted, and flat-woven carpets as bed coverings and sleeping mats, as well as for self-adornment, and burial shrouds. Some of these rugs were also used for as saddle blankets.

Berber carpets do not fit the stereotype of African art. Like much African art, however, these rectangular compositions woven by the Moroccan women are religious works designed to repel negative spiritual powers. For their nomadic makers the carpets provided both physical and metaphysical protection.

The designs that most frequently appear in Moroccan rugs are traditional and ancient, passed down from weaver to weaver. The woman making the rug decides the pattern, telling her personal life story through the choice of symbols, and thereby making every rug unique. A very liberating tradition promoting artistic freedom in its purest sense.

Elsewhere in Morocco, most major cities have a style or design characteristic that distinguishes their carpets. Much like, for example, the different regions of France, producing wines with very typical characteristics.

Perhaps the most important carpet-producing city in Morocco is the long time Moroccan 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.

Moroccan rugs experienced a growth in popularity in the West with mid-century modern designers – such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Ray & Charles Eames – who paired the thick piled Berber rugs with their sleekly designed furniture.

Part of the appeal to the modernists was the primitivism 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.

In the mountains, carpets served as blankets, shielding Berber families against the elements, while their talismanic designs and rectangular compositions deflected evil and promoted fertility. These mystical intentions perhaps explain the surprising asymmetries of Berber designs, as if the lines were themselves nomadic, open to chance meanders and deviations, like the paths and folds of Atlas and Rif mountain landscapes.

Monochrome carpets, on the other hand, yield the subtle pleasures of a Mark Rothko painting, also meditative and, for many, transcendental. Such freedom of design, far removed from the repetitive patterns of urban carpets, strikes a chord with Berber identity. The tribes of the Middle Atlas speak Tamazight, literally “the language of the free” and their tribe names can be equally evocative – one translates as “people from between somewhere and nowhere.” Their designs seem to similarly hover between being and dissolving.

Vintage and antique Moroccan rugs are popular today for their decorative flexibility and reasonable pricing compared to other styles of antique rugs.