Most cultures develop an iconic type of decorative art, which both the common people and master artisans develop and perfect over the centuries. In the case of Morocco, that art takes the form of Berber tribal rugs. These woolen rugs have been produced for countless centuries, and they have become famous all over the world for their quality and beauty.
What Are They?
There are a few features that distinguish Moroccan Beni Ourain rugs from those produced by other cultures. The most significant is their material. These rugs are made from live wool, which is is sheared from sheep while they are still alive, rather than the dead wool that comes from sheepskins. This type of wool offers both greater durability and improved texture over dead wool. The wool is woven to create a rug using a distinctive knot that is unique to the Berber people, which gives the rugs their characteristic texture.
Moroccan Beni Ourain rugs also have unique decorations. The patterns on the rugs follow traditional designs that date back as far as the medieval period, which are often associated with a single tribe or city. Some of them rely on dyed colors, but many more use the wide range of natural colors that can be found in wool to create their designs.
History of the Berber Tribal Rugs
Archaeologists have found the mains of rugs in Morocco that date back to the Stone Age. The people of that period used them for a wide variety of purposes, including protection from the elements, sleeping mats, and occasionally clothing. Weaving techniques advanced over time throughout the ancient period, until they eventually reached their peak in the medieval period.
The modern style can trace its roots back to the medieval designs. Their fame also traces back to that period. The rugs became a significant source of wealth for many Moroccans, both those that made them professionally and for the farmers and nomads that produced a few every year. They became so valuable and famous that some tribes could even use them to pay tribute to rulers.
Even so, the difficulties of transporting the carpets over long distances meant that their fame was mostly confined to northern Africa and southern Spain in this period. They would only spread to the rest of the world in the modern era, when shipping advances made them easier to transport.
The modern fame of the Berber rug comes from their use by minimalist designers in the 20th century. They combined the rustic rugs with their sleek, modern furniture to create a contrast that enhanced the appearance of both pieces. When those designers became famous, the rugs that they used also became famous.
Modern homes use the rugs to add comfort to otherwise bare rooms. Wool rugs are very warm, so they can provide insulation on tile or stone floors that are otherwise unpleasant to walk upon. Visually, they can cover some of the artificial materials that are common in modern homes with a layer of natural wool, which makes them much more appealing to many residents.