Morocco's rural weaving culture has attracted a great deal of attention from the international art world over the past 20 years. Much of this interest has been generated by a new generation of dealers and collectors who have used their understanding and appreciation of abstract modern art to judge these weavings, thereby gradually replacing the use of fineness, natural dyes and age as indicators of quality.
The minimalist and abstract forms seen in these rural weavings seem to both suggest an affinity with the earliest roots of the pile-weaving as well as represent the contemporary yet authentic creative and archaic spirit of tribal art.
Appreciation of the spontaneous and bold character of Moroccan Berber carpets began in the 1920s and 30s with classical modern architects such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto or Marcel Breuer who integrated them into their interiors and promoted them in important presentations and the interiors shops of the period.

Moroccan weavings can be divided into various categories. The sophisticated Arabic urban tradition has been subject to cultural exchange with the Mediterranean and was greatly influenced by the styles of the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century. The carpet production of the nomadic Arab tribes is of minor importance, apart from the products of the Haouz region. In the urban embroideries of the 18th and 19th century the influence of the Moorish and Jewish migrants who moved back to Morocco from Spain in the late Middle Ages are still visible.
On the other hand the rural carpets of Morocco have followed regional Berber cultural traditions and appear to have a style that remained independent until the 20th century. And since there was not really a European demand before the 20th century, Moroccan carpets have always been produced mainly for personal needs or an internal market. It is surprising that the influence between the urban centres and the remote Berber regions was relatively small with the exception of the relation between the urban centres of Rabat and Salé to the Jebel Siroua region and parts of the Ait Ouaouzguite confederation. Otherwise only the Oulad bou Sbaa in the south-western part of the Haouz plains seem to have produced carpets orientated on an urban style before the 20th century.

Unlike in classical eastern carpet-producing countries, it is not known whether urban pile-weaving workshops were established before the 18th century, although Charles Grant Ellis and Jenny Housego suggested that a group of Mamluk carpets may have been manufactured in western North Africa (*1). It is safe to assume that the 18th century urban workshops of Rabat were established to adapt Anatolian examples to the specific demand for long and relatively narrow carpets in Moroccan urban houses for those that could not afford the prestigious but expensive imported pile weaves. Descriptions of an urban household in the kingdom of Fez in a French geographical encyclopaedia (*2) from the early 18th century speak about the floors being covered with carpets from wall to wall but neither describe the carpets themselves nor mention their origin.
The few examples of Rabat carpets we know from before or around 1800 appear related by design to Anatolian village rugs from Melas, Ladik, Mucur and the so called 'Transylvanian' carpets from western Anatolia, but combined with regional Moroccan motifs (1 +2). These rugs first show the recognisable Moroccan trait of giving more weight to the borders and less to the main field (3). The colour scheme appears balanced in this period and the colour palette is limited compared to the carpets from later than 1850. Rabat and Médiouna have to be regarded as the main centres of Moroccan urban pile weaving, while Salé is known for a special type of textile consisting of a mixture of pile and flat weave (4).
By the second half of the 19th century the style of Rabat carpets developed towards a “design-overload” and an extremely diverse colour palette.

  moroccan rabat carpet around 1750                        moroccan rabat carpet around 1800
(1)    antique Rabat carpet around ca. 1750, ca. 295 x 160 cm (9' x 5'), the relation to so called "Transylvanian" carpets from western Anatolia is very evident.   (2)    antique Rabat carpet around ca. 1800, ca. 380 x 165 cm (12' 8'' x 5' 6''), the design becomes denser and the entire field is significantly enhanced by Moroccan local motifs.
 moroccan rabat carpet around 1840     Moroccan hanbel from Sale
(3)    antique Rabat carpet around ca. 1840, ca. 350 x 165 cm (11' 8'' x 5' 6''), a typical example from the first half to mid of the 19th century. The design becomes very dense, multiple borders dominate the composition while the central field has almost vanished. The color palette becomes more and more diverse.   (4)    antique hanbel (mixed technique textile) from Salé, second quarter 19th century, ca. 350 x 140 cm (11' 8'' x 4' 8''). The decoration of these textiles mainly consits of weft substitution designs similar to those found all over the Middle Atlas; in addition there are typically three horizontal panels of knotted design with the pile side pointing to the back of the textile.

Although there are no known early examples from before the 19th century, Moroccan rural carpets seem to have a more ancient history than the urban carpets, and the fact that they have remained such remarkable and authentic expressions of  a dynamic tradition until recently, deserves further attention.
Originally these carpets were made for personal and domestic use by the different ethnic groups of mainly Berber, rarely Arabic, origin within Morocco, most of whom were semi-nomadic. The carpets were normally used as bedding or blankets and were made by the women for their own families, who passed weaving techniques down through the generations.
The way in which these carpets were woven made them easily adaptable to any climate: in the mountains, they are made with a high pile and are more loosely knotted so as to provide protection against the cold, whereas in warmer climes a lower pile height and a finer weave is employed.
As these carpets were not traded or collected in Europe in earlier periods, they were only known and used in their regional environments until the era of the French Protectorate. Old pieces that no longer fulfilled their function were rarely preserved. Rural Moroccan carpets, therefore, have retained their authenticity owing to a lack of demand and influence from external markets; the drawback, of course, is that there are not many of them from a time before 1950 even. Examples going back to the 19th century have to be regarded as being extremely rare.


The mountainous regions of the Middle Atlas reach heights of up to 3200m in the most northern part around the Jebel bou Iblane and have the most severe climate in Morocco during the winter.
Thus the region's rugs have a high pile height of up to four centimetres with a course structure executed either in a symmetric or a Berber knot.
In the north-eastern part, white (or cream) ground carpets dominate among the tribes of the Beni Ouarain confederation, the Beni Alaham, the Marmoucha and the Ait Seghrouchène. This tradition of white (or cream) ground carpets also seems to have existed among the Ait Youssi, Beni Mguild, Zemmour and Guerrouane  from the central and western part of the Middle Atlas but apparently vanished in the early 20th century (*3).
Beginning in the 19th century and developing quickly during the time of the French protectorate, carpets with a dominant red field set up a new style in a movement from west to east. Therefore within the Zemmour, Guerrouane, Ait Sgougou and Zayan red is the dominant colour of 20th century carpets, while the ones of the Beni Mguild and Beni Mtir tend to have a darker appearance with a significantly high amount of dark blue in older examples (5 + 6).

  beni mguild carpet indigo blue        beni mguild blue monochrome rug
(5)    Beni Mguild pile rug, western central Middle Atlas, ca. 1920/30, ca. 240 x 170 cm (8' x 5' 8'').   (6)    Beni Mguild pile rug, western Middle Atlas, ca. 1920, ca. 220 x 150 cm (7'  4'' x  5').


The main design concept of Middle Atlas carpets, normally based on an overall diamond grid (5, 7), can oftenchange during the course of being woven and these “conceptual fractures” become obvious features of the finished piece. Indeed in making these carpets, a consistent composition seems to have been less important than having the flexibility to modify the rug's composition as soon as a new idea comes to mind (8, 10).

beni jelidassen pile woven pillow            

beni mtir berber carpet



(7)    Beni Jelidassen pile woven pillow, north-eastern Middle Atlas, late 19th / early 20th cent., ca. 75 x 40 cm (30'' x 16'')


(8)    Beni Mtir pile rug, western Middle Atlas, ca. 1920, ca. 265 x 190 cm (8' 10'' x 6' 4'')


As these carpets were mainly made for every day’s use a good number of them are extremely simple, with very reduced designs or even a plain monochrome field without any decoration ( 6, 8, 9, 10, 11). Representative carpets made with the help of a master weaver with a higher degree of decoration were rare in the Middle Atlas (12). 

  white beni mguild rug                    marmoucha or ait seghrouchene rug

(9)    Beni Mguild pile rug, western Middle Atlas, ca. 1930, ca. 235 x 170 cm (7' 10'' x 5' 8'') 


(10)  Marmoucha or Ait Seghrouchene pile rug, eastern Middle Atlas, ca. 1920/30, ca. 205 x 155 cm (6' 10'' x 5' 2'')  

  beni ouarain pile carpet     marmoucha master weaver carpet

(11) antique Beni Ouarain pile carpet, north-eastern Middle Atlas, late 19th / early 20th cent., ca. 400 x 175 cm (13' 4'' x 5' 10'')



(12) Marmoucha pile carpet, eastern Middle Atlas, dated 1354 AH (= 1933 AD), ca. 380 x 175 cm (12' 8'' x 5' 10''). The dense and more complex design is charcteristic for the work of a male professioonal master weaver . coll. L. Viola, Marrakech. publ. HALI 120, p.75 


The region's flatweaves however are highly technically complex and have dense decoration (13, 14, 15). On the western side of the Middle Atlas the designs of some pile carpets are clearly based on ideas seen in flatweaves, in particular in the region of the Beni Mguild, Beni Mtir and Ait Youssi. Occasionally these carpets appear like enlarged details of flat-woven examples (16). 

beni mguild kilim hanbel                  beni mtir kilim hanbel

(13) Beni Mguild kilim (hanbel), western central Middle Atlas, early 20th cent., 250 x 145 cm (8' 4'' x 4' 10'') 


(14) Beni Mtir kilim (hanbel), north western Middle Atlas, early 20th cent., ca. 250 x 125 cm, (8' 4'' x 4' 2'') 

 beni alaham ait seghrouchene pillow    beni mguild carpet

(15) Beni Alaham or Ait Seghrouchene pillow, northern Middle Atlas, ca. 1930/40, ca. 100 x 40 cm (40'' x 16'')




(16)    Beni Mguild rug, western Middle Atlas, mid 20th cent, ca. 250 x 175 cm (8' 4'' x 5' 10'')



Although the carpets from Eastern Morocco have attracted little scholarly as well as commercial attention, their importance and influence on the development of rural Moroccan weaving culture - particularly on the one of the Middle Atlas - cannot be underestimated.
As in the Middle Atlas, the carpets were generally used as sleeping mats and covers but due to the lower regions and the milder climate they only have a pile about 2cm high, and various forms of symmetric knots, asymmetric knots as well as the Berber knot are used. The sizes normally vary between 160 and 220 cm in width and from 3 up to 10 meters in length.
Pile carpets in Eastern Morocco can be subdivided into a female style similar to the traditions in the Middle Atlas and a male style, which has an affinity to the traditions in Algeria and Tunisia. While the women produced the carpets for their own families in a self supporting nomadic economic system, the male traditions base on a system of specialised professional masterweavers (Arab.: mallem).
The very  large masterweaver carpets, sometimes up to 10 meters long, were made for wealthy families among the northern tribes of the Metalsa, Beni bou Yahi, Beni bou Zeggou and the Beni Snassen. Such pieces were regarded as extremely prestigious and served as examples and source of inspiration for the more widespread female carpet production. Occasionally the eastern Moroccan masterweavers also worked in the northern and eastern middle Atlas and hence were of significant influence to these regions too.
The design scheme of these carpets shows the traditional simple geometric Berber motifs such as lozenges, triangles, crosses etc. inscribed in a regular, symmetric overall lozenge grid-composition with well balanced colours containing high amounts of deep indigo blue and green in old examples. Borders are typical, but usually the ones along the selvages differ clearly from the ones at the beginning and the end (17).
 beni bou yahi carpet
(17) antique Beni bou Yahi professional masterweaver's carpet; lower Moulouya valley, eastern Morocco, ca. 1910/15, ca. 790 x 180 cm (26' x6')


Otherwise among all the tribes cited above carpets have also been woven by women for everyday uses. Similar to the carpets of the Middle Atlas, the style of these pieces is based on free, abstract, borderless compositions. The designs are developed out of an inexact memory of previously seen examples and therefore lead to very free, often anarchic images (18 + 19).
Probably the most impressive ones of these female carpets come from the region of the Ait Seghrouchène du Sud in the most eastern portion of the High Atlas, from the sub - group of the Ait bou Ichaouen.
 ait bou ichaouen carpet                                                                                                               zkara carpet
(18) Ait bou Ichaouen rug, eastern Morocco, ca. 1940, ca. 430 x 150 cm (14' 4'' x 5')   (19) Zkara rug, north eastern Morocco, ca. 1920/30, ca. 430 x 180 cm (14' 4'' x 6'). publ. HALI 120, London 2002, p. 77


The Haouz is a landscape of hills and plains situated between the Middle Atlas and the Atlantic ocean mostly inhabited by Arabic groups and arabised Berbers.
In the region around Boujad, in the eastern part of the Haouz, carpets come close to the ones from the Middle Atlas in their coarse structure, but designs do not seem to follow traditional rules. Even if the very basic formal canon of simple lozenges, squares or triangles is seen, the freedom of each individual weaver dominates the composition in a very personal pictorial language. Free floating forms and often rather sharp colours are said to be preferred by the rural Arabic taste. The region seems to be a melting pot of small migrations that took place during the French Protectorate and the last decades. So the specific regional pile weaves do not have a far-reaching history in the traditional sense, but rather represent a recent cultural phenomenon. Nevertheless they carry a very distinctive character and the best examples may be regarded as charming works of art (20).
boujad saddle rug








(20)    saddle rug from the region around the city of Boujad, eastern Haouz plains, ca. 1920/30, 85 x 81 cm (33,5'' x 32'')

In the central and western areas of the Haouz, four main groups, the Rehamna, the Oulad bou Sbaa, the Ahmar and the Chiadma are known as carpet producing tribes. Owing to the mild climate, the rugs of this region mostly have – at least in pieces manufactured before 1930 – a rather fine structure executed in a symmetric knot and a pile height of around 8mm. A high number of weft shots between each row of knots causes a flat laying pile and gives a maximum effect to the lustrous wool in the old examples. Black saw tooth selvages in goat’s hair and a goat hair warp are typical for the region.
The carpets of the Haouz may be split into two groups: monochrome examples with a reddish orange ground are called gtifa and only sometimes carry small enigmatic motifs in an otherwise open empty field (21). Carpets called zarbia meanwhile have a more or less dense drawing of either motifs borrowed from urban Rabat carpets or designs in a typical regional style which seems to come closer to free abstraction than to a strict traditional canon of explicit motifs. In this style, which is mostly found in the rugs of the Rehamna and Ahmar, wavey lines, lozenges, triangles, squares, chessboard designs and sometimes even anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures are typical features as well as borderless overall conceptions (22). In the Chiadma and the Oulad bou Sbaa rugs – especially in the very fine examples from Chinnani – urban influenced compositions and motifs dominate, sometimes mixed up with local elements or done in individual interpretations. These weavings usually carry at least one surrounding border. Chiadma carpets tend to have a rather high amount of yellowish orange and violet instead of the red ground colour.
 rehamna zarbia carpet                                        

rehamna gtifa carpet

(21)Rehamna carpet of the more densely decorated "zarbia" type, Haouz plains, ca. 1920, ca. 390 x 170 cm (13' x 5' 8'')   (22) Rehamna carpet of the less decorated "gtifa" type, Haouz plains, ca. 1930, ca. 440 x 175 cm (14' 8'' x 5' 10'')
The carpets from the southern Moroccan Jebel Siroua region and the Pre-Sahara are in general the finest examples of Moroccan rural weaving. In the past they have been traded under a quite misleading attribution to the “High Atlas” while the carpets from the Azilal province – really originating from the High Atlas – have been almost unknown to the market until the late 1990s. As the climatic circumstances on the northern end of the Sahara and the central High Atlas are far less severe than in the more northern mountainous regions, the carpets from southern Morocco tend to have a fine structure and a more noble appearance due to their extremely lustrous wool and an almost cloth-like touch.
The tribes of the Ait Ouaouzguite confederation are the keyholders of the most sophisticated textile culture in rural Morocco. There is significant evidence for a mutual influence of the weavings from the urban centres of Rabat and Salé and the ones from the Ait Ouaouzguite at least from the early 19th century on (23, 24), based on one side on the closeness of the trans-Saharan trade routes to the region of the Jebel Siroua and on the other side on the cultural relations between the Jewish populations among the Ait Ouaouzguite and in the capital of Rabat. The highly skilled textile culture of this region is also expressed in various flatweaves and in a specific type of mixed technique textiles (25, 26).


ait ouaouzguite carpet


ait tamassine carpet

(23) antique Ait Ouaouzguite rug, Jebel Siroua region, mid 19th cent., ca. 310 x 140 cm (10' 4'' x 4' 8'')



(24) antique Ait Ouaouzguite (Ait Tamassine) rug, Jebel Siroua region, mid 19th cent., ca. 350 x 165 cm (11' 8'' x 5' 6'') 



glaoui textile carpet

  ait ouaouzguite textile  


(25) antique Ait Ouaouzguite (Ait Ouarghada) textile, so called "Glaoui" type, Jebel Siroua region, 19th cent., ca. 355 x 145 cm (11' 10'' x 4' 10'')   (26) antique Ait Ouaouzguite (Ait Tamassine) textile, so called "Glaoui" type, Jebel Siroua region, late 19th cent., ca. 600 x 155 cm (20' x 5' 4'')

While polychrome carpets with field compositions related to Rabat carpets from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are known only from some of the central Ait Ouaouzguite groups, more simple carpet types are known from all over the Jebel Siroua region (27) and the southern neighbouring areas of the Zenaga and Sektana. While the Ait Ouaouzguite developed an organized tradition of distinctive designs and motifs (28), which sometimes used central medallions and borders, the more southern tribes – in particular the Zenaga – tend to free floating forms, improvisation and a very individual formal language (29, 30). 


zenaga carpet                       ait ouaouzguite carpet

(27) Zenaga rug, southern Jebel Siroua region / Pre-Sahara, early 20th cent., ca. 290 x 130 cm (9' 8'' x 4' 4'') 



(28) antique Ait Ouaouzguite (Ait Ouarghada rug, Jebel Siroua region, late 19th cent., ca. 290 x 155 cm (9' 8'' x 5' 2'') 


zenaga carpet    zenaga carpet

(29) Zenaga rug, south western jebel Siroua region / Pre-Sahara, ca. 1930, ca. 240 x 140 cm (8' x 4' 8'')



(30) Zenaga rug, south western jebel Siroua region / Pre-Sahara, ca. 1930, ca. 200 x 130 cm (6' 8'' x 4' 4'')



Beside these southern Moroccan regions, the High Atlas itself seems to have been rather poor in carpet production in comparison to the Middle Atlas. The only region with a pile-weaving tradition seems to exist in the province of Azilal, where the Ait Shokmane, the Ait Bougmez, the Ait Bouzid and the Ait bou Oulli produced white grounded carpets with designs executed in undyed brown or black wool. Only in rare cases the black and white scheme appears highlighted with few additional colours (31). Motifs and compositions seem to be related to the Middle Atlas as well as to the Ait Ouaouzguite, but in most examples free compositions of basic geometric elements show a very personal, archaic looking expression (31, 32). <read more>





 azilal vcarpet

                                          azilal carpet

(31)  Azilal rug, central High Atlas, ca. 1940/50, ca. 200 x 120 cm (6' 8'' x 4')  


(32) Azilal rug, central High Atlas, ca. 1950, ca. 415 x 140 cm (13' 10'' x 4' 8'') 


It is evident that Moroccan carpet culture is significantly different both in its  structure and its history to that of the Orient. While urban production was related to and inspired by other cultural centres in the Mediterranean hemisphere, influences from Morocco towards the exterior are not documented.
Sedentary rural and nomadic productions stayed rather unknown in Europe until the 20th century as the Berber tribes preferred to stay away as far as possible from central power and therefore cultural exchange was mostly limited to regional migration and trade.
The power of Berber weavings is greatly dependent on its specifically female culture influenced much more on pre-Islamic beliefs, spirituality and magic rather than on formal traditions as we know it from the Orient. It seems appropriate to understand these weavings as a transmission or translation of wishes, fears or hopes into powerful individual and expressive images. As there has hardly ever been a commercial request from foreign markets, these carpets were only produced to satisfy the functional, existential and spiritual needs of their owners and producers. Typically designs relate to fertility and protection, but such interpretations should be taken with care because the use of these designs, even if following regional traditions and beliefs, remains an area that is intensely personal and is hardly interpretable to a foreigner. Motifs and their meanings can be understood with additional knowledge on songs, legends and linguistic denominations but should at the end be interpreted as carefully and respectfully as any other piece of abstract art.
The greater understanding and widespread interest in these carpets has developed a professional market that at a material and aesthetic level has previously not existed. The best museum’s collection in Europe, established in the former MAAO in Paris, which is now integrated in the Musée du quai Branly, owes much to the private collection Lelong, a French couple living in Marrakech in the 1930s and the recent purchases and donations from the Korolnik collection, Swiss collectors couple, living in Berlin today. Together with the holdings of the Moroccan national museums, built up under the direction of Prosper Ricard, author of the first and most important monograph on Moroccan carpets (*4), this collection is the earliest and most important existing. It is interesting and surprising to remark that the last few years have brought quite a number of pieces to light that are of similar quality to the pieces in these above-mentioned esteemed collections. Apparently a contemporary understanding for a traditional form of artistic expression, serious research and documentation work and a performing market created a climate where surprises are still possible in the field of carpet knowledge and collecting. 


This text has originallly been published as a catalogue contribution to the exhibition "Moroccan Charm - Art of the Berber Tribes, The G. Blazek Collection of Carpets and Textiles and the I. Grammet Collection of Jewellery", held from July 2005 until April 2006 at the L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art , Jerusalem, Israel.

All items with the exception of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 have been exhibited and are published in the catalogue which is either available at the L. A. Mayer Institute or through my 'books + catalogues' section. 

all photos © by Gebhart Blazek 



*1    C.G. Ellis: „Mysteries of the Misplaced Mamluks“, Textile Museum Journal, II, N° 2, 1967
J. Housego: „Mamluk carpets and North Africa, Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, HALI Publications, London 1986, p. 221 - 241

*2    M. Bruzen la Martinière: „ Le Grand Dictionnaire Géographique et Critique“, tome second, Venice 1737, p. 91 (...“ Ils n’ont presque point des meubles, & leur lit consiste en un matelas étendu sur des ais depuis un muraille jusqu’à l’autre...“ .... „ Ils n’ont ni tables, ni chaises, ni escabeaux, ils ne font qu’étendre un grand tapis par terre, avec des coussins carrez, sur quoi les personnes de qualité s’asséient“....)

*3    Prosper Ricard: „Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 2, Tapis du Moyen Atlas, Paris 1926, re-edition 1975, p. 28, p. 31 – 51, p. 69 - 71

*4    Prosper Ricard:
„Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 1, tapis de Rabat, Paris 1923
„Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 2, Tapis du Moyen Atlas, Paris 1926
„Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 3, Tapis du Haut Atlas et du Haouz de Marrakech, Paris 1927
„Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 4, Tapis divers, Paris 1934

Prosper Ricard / Marcel Vicaire: „Corpus des Tapis Marocains“, tome 5 / fascicule1, Rabat 1950


further bilbliography:

Wilfried Stanzer: Berber / Stammesteppiche und Textilien aus dem Königreich Marokko, Graz 1991,

M. Messaouidi / W. Stanzer (editors), ICOC catalogue, Casablanca / Lieboch, 1997, lecture Gebhart Blazek: Textiles and Carpets of the Beni Ouarain and their Sub-Tribes: Differences and Differentiations / Les textiles et les tapis des Beni Ouarain et de leurs sous-groupes: différences et délimitations / Textilien und Teppiche der Beni Ouarain und deren Untergruppen: Unterscheidungen und Abgrenzungen

Kurt Rainer: Marokko mon amour / Morocco mon amour, Graz 2005

Rachel Hasson / Gebhart Blazek: Moroccan Charm, Art of the Berber Tribes, Jerusalem 2005


Wikipedia: Berber carpet


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