Moroccan Rug Guide
Selecting the right Moroccan rug style for your home.
If you ever have the good luck to visit Morocco, you’ll notice that the marketplaces, or souks, are full of beautiful, vibrantly-colored rugs: Lush Beni Ourain wool carpets; light Kilim rugs peppered with geometric shapes; and playful Boucherouite rugs laced with rainbow-colored scraps of fabric. The rugs are beautiful, of course. But more than that, they each tell a story of skilled craftsmanship, origin and purpose.
In the following guide, we’ll take you through the 10 essential Moroccan rugs, along with their features, unique characteristics and details of origin. Hopefully, you’ll learn something new about the gorgeous, handcrafted rugs you see on AMASOUK–and may even make a choice about what kind of rug you’d love to bring into your home.
A Bit of History
Morocco has a rich, diverse history. To this day, this North African country remains a melting pot of cultures, peoples, languages, and as you’ll soon see, aesthetic traditions. Though Morocco is considered a primarily Arab nation, its indigenous people–the Berbers–have played a powerful role in shaping and sustaining some of the most famous markers of Moroccan culture, including rugs.
Interestingly enough, Berbers are one of the oldest-known people groups residing in one region in the world. In fact, the oldest fossils of homo sapiens ever found–dating back 300,000 years–were located in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco.
Morocco has a history of invasion and colonization by various nations and people groups from Europe and the Middle East. Between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, the region was colonized by the Phoenicians, a culture of merchants, seafarers and explorers. By the 3rd century BCE, the Berbers ruled over their own territory until it was taken over by Rome. And in the 8th century, Morocco was conquered by Muslims. Since then, this nation has gone through various periods of self-rule and colonization from European countries, including France and Spain.
Through it all, the Berbers have retained their native cultures and languages, which vary from region to region across all of North Africa (Note that Berbers do not live exclusively in Morocco). Along with language, livelihood and cuisine, Berbers have also preserved their artistic heritage and craftsmanship–including weaving tapestries and rugs.
Moroccan Rugs by Type
As alluded to above, Moroccan rugs range dramatically in size, color, texture and usage–often determined by a specific tribe or region. While the words used to describe these pieces may vary, here are 10 commonly used terms for the major categories of Moroccan rugs.
Thin-pile Kilim rugs cover a larger category of Moroccan rugs, including those from the Khemissate, Tiffelt and Zemmour regions. Created by nomadic Berbers, they are tightly woven, lightweight pieces that are ideal for traveling, and can be used as rugs, bed coverings, and layers for colder temperatures.
Kilim rugs are frequently decorated with geometric patterns and diamond-like asymmetrical designs, and are popularly used by foreign buyers as decorative tapestries as well as throw rugs.
As a side note, kilim is a word of Turkish origin; in fact, lightweight kilim rugs are found in countries all over the world.
Zemmour rugs are a type of kilim rug, named for the specific Middle Atlas mountain region from which they hail (zemmour means “olive” in the Berber language spoken in the region). They are often dyed crimson-red, but can also be found in shades of taupe, cream or even blue.
Decorated with intricate bands of geometric designs, zemmour rugs often tell a story of the maker. For example, the popular “lozenge” design represents a woman’s body; a rug with that particular pattern may tell the unique story of the craftswoman that made it.
You may see Zemmour rugs in small shops across Morocco, and with good reason. These beautifully designed rugs are both functional and iconic, and make a unique addition to a room with neutral tones.
3. Beni Ourain
Beni Ourain rugs are the high-pile, shaggy rugs that you may have seen in design magazines or social media accounts. These rugs have become exceptionally popular for their simple but unique design, plush texture and “blank canvas” appeal.
Makers of Beni Ourain rugs–also from the Middle Atlas–often make these pieces with raw sheep wool, sheared “live” and left unprocessed. The result is an exceptionally soft and yet durable texture, giving these rugs a thick, cozy finish. Undyed and unprocessed, Beni Ourain rugs are typically white, cream or beige with black accents, such as straight lines forming a simple grid or zig-zags–making them a great option for purists who opt for natural-looking design.
Vibrantly-colored Azilal rugs come from the province of Azilal in the Middle Atlas mountains, where Berber women have been skillfully weaving these pieces for generations.
Azilal rugs are best recognized by their horizontal weave and pattern of alternating knots and woven lines, often dyed bright neon colors. You might find crimson red, shocking pinks, bright yellows and vibrant blues in diamonds, triangles, zig-zagged lines and rectangles on your Azilal rug. Like most Moroccan rugs, these pieces tell a deeper story through their symbolic design, communicated through the artistic choices of the weaver.
Azilal rugs are made from “sharper,” less cushiony wool than that used on Beni Ourain pieces; still, the end product has a soft and cozy finish.
Playful boucherouite (“scrap” in Moroccan Arabic) rugs are the unique product of creativity, utility and necessity. Made from the scraps of old clothing and even other rugs, these vibrant rugs are pieced together for everyday usages such as making dinner, riding a mule or allowing a baby to crawl on.
Out of all Moroccan rugs, these are the most distinctive. They are typically bright and boldly colored, forming asymmetrical patterns out of knotted and woven cotton, wool and even nylon. Because they are typically created as “mobile pieces,” they are often smaller than other rugs.
Boucherouite rugs originally come from the Central Plains of Morocco, near the regions of Beni Mellal and Boujad. However, the practice of weaving together scraps has now become popular in different areas of the country, including the Middle and High Atlas Mountains, and especially the Ourika valley.
Boujad rugs are from the Haouz region of Morocco, the location of famously tourist-forward Marrakech. If you have the opportunity to visit this stunning, chaotic, pink-walled city, you’ll see plenty of Boujad rugs in the marketplace–tightly woven, with fine delicate designs featuring Berber motifs and symbols. Boujad rugs are typically warm-toned in shades of pink, orange, red or purple, and often have more of a vintage look and feel.
7. Beni McGuild
The Beni Mguild tribe from the Middle Atlas region are the makers of elegant Beni Mguild rugs, high pile pieces that you might see from a luxury carpet seller. They are usually jewel-toned in rich reds, blues and greens, but are sometimes intentionally exposed to the sun to give them a pastel hue. Their colors carry symbolic significance: red for strength, blue for wisdom, yellow for eternity and green for peace.
Beni Mguild rugs are often patterned with beautiful, intricate design, but can also be monochrome.
8. Aït Bou Ichaouen
If you’re looking for a particularly unique Moroccan rug, Aït Bou Ichaouen rugs are a great option. These uniquely designed pieces from a small region in the east of the Atlas Mountains near the border of Algeria, meaning their weavers haven’t been heavily influenced by rugs from the Middle Atlas and other regions.
Aït Bou Ichaouen rugs typically contain bold colors, such as red, green and purple, and are marked with designs and patterns unlike anything else you might find in Morocco. Many of them also contain symbolic motifs that represent different events in history, such as the fight for independence against French colonization.
9. Tuareg Mats
Tuareg mats are made by the Tuareg people, a semi-nomadic Berber tribe from the Sahara desert. These flat, smooth mats–used as floor coverings in tents or homes–are often made with reed and sometimes decorated with leather. They are usually beige or brown, and contain simple geometric design, plenty of clean, straight lines and Berber symbolism.
While they lack the vibrancy of traditional Moroccan rugs, Tuareg mats are beautiful in their own right. Their earthy simplicity makes them a great option for those looking for something unique but more minimalist.
If you’ve ever wandered through a Moroccan souk, you’ve probably noticed white- or cream-colored wool throws decorated with large, shimmering sequins hanging from the rafters. These are Berber wedding blankets, or Handiras, woven by women from the Middle Atlas mountains as celebratory pieces for a bride on her wedding day.
Tradition says that while the blanket is being meticulously decorated with sequins over a matter of days or even weeks, the bride is trained and taught in the ways of matrimony. In any case, the finished product is pretty spectacular, showcasing attention to detail, quality and traditional craftsmanship at its very best.
As you’ve just discovered, Moroccan rugs are about as varied as they come. That being said, they do share the common qualities of excellent craftsmanship, rich tradition and gorgeous design.
AMASOUK is the proud purveyor of Moroccan rugs from all over the nation, sourced from the craftspeople who made them. If you’d like to take a look at AMASOUK’s variety of unique, hand-crafted Moroccan rugs, click here to shop.