If you’ve never dug your toes into an authentic Moroccan Berber rug or Beni Ourain rug, you don’t know what you’re missing. Soft, plush and beautiful to the eye, these handcrafted wool rugs have been a tradition of the nomadic Berber tribes of North Africa since as far back as the Paleolithic age.
The Beni Ourain term and the Berber rug synonym refers to the seventeen tribes of Berber people who have thrived in the high-altitude Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia for centuries. It was there in that harsh mountain climate that these simple but luxurious rugs had their beginnings. Woven as a necessity from the rich, cream-colored wool of local sheep, they served as ground coverings, blankets and as shawls to throw over one’s back and shoulders to protect against the cold. And while their original purpose was for practicality, the Berber women that hand wove these rugs individually added their own personal touches with colors, symbols and designs that told the unique stories of their lives. These stories included tales of births and deaths, fertility, rural life and spirituality, and it was not uncommon for talismans to make an appearance in a design as a means to ward off evil spirits. Today’s Berber artisans continue that practice to this day.
Centuries later, these knotted pile rugs have reached a far wider audience becoming particularly popular in the home decor of western society. And because no two rugs are exactly alike, these typically asymmetrical rugs are all the more valuable. Traditional Beni Ourain rugs are notable for their generally cream-colored background and minimalist designs made up of fine black or brown lines or geometric shapes. The darker-colored yarns typically came from local dark sheep and goats, but natural ingredients such as spices, herbs and flowers were also used to make colorful dyes. As a result, Berber rugs as a whole may contain surprisingly bright splashes of color that can make quite a conversation starter as a floor covering in today’s modern homes or displayed on walls as works of art.
While modern society has since created commercialized “knock-offs” that may not even be made in Morocco, true believers can still haggle for an authentic Moroccan Berber Rug or Beni Ourain rug in a Marrakech carpet shop or seek out local sellers who take on that role for them. As the rugs have gained in popularity, artisan villages have sprung to life in the Atlas Mountain regions of Morocco. These talented women use their looms to weave beautiful, unique rugs, often customized to their buyers’ requests. In some cases, they will use synthetic colors to meet specific color requests, but on the whole, the process for making them has changed little over the centuries.
With so much history and culture interwoven in these unique rugs, it is no wonder they are so popular with historians, collectors and designers. The beauty of it is that they also have gained great appeal with those who simply enjoy the nicer things in life.