For many, a trip to Marrakech isn’t complete without buying a carpet, or at least visiting a carpet shop.
Moroccan carpets can be grouped into rural or urban, Berber or Arab. Urban carpets are influenced by the fine, oriental designs of the Middle East and are intricately detailed.
Rural Berber carpets (arguably more interesting) are handwoven into abstract patterns and symbols that tell the stories of a tribe. Carpets from the Middle Atlas – zanafi – have a deep, woollen pile to keep out the cold and are usually long and narrow.
The creamy shedwi carpets of the High and Middle Atlas Beni Ourain and Beni Mguild tribes are decorated with simple black or dark brown patterns. The haouz carpets of the west, between the Atlas and the Atlantic, have free-floating shapes and bright colours. Kilims, or hanbels, from Chichaoua, are flat-woven rugs with detailed geometric designs and usually coloured in black, white and yellow on a red background.
Berber carpets – with their unique, irreverent, free designs – are informal and fun and tend to work well in modern, western surroundings. As such, certain types of Moroccan carpet – the Beni Ourain and Beni Mguild in particular – have recently become the height of fashion in the west.
The art of carpet weaving is exclusively female and influenced by pre-Islamic beliefs that are entrenched in magic and the legends of the Berber tribes. Traditionally, carpets were made solely for personal use. This means that every symbol, motif and pattern means something special to the weaver – perhaps a wish for fertility, the celebration of a marriage or birth, or an ode to the landscape of a particular region. When you buy a Moroccan carpet, therefore, you are buying a talisman and a unique story.
One of the best places to buy carpets is in the Criée Berbère off the Spice Square – the entrance is flanked by two outdoor carpet stalls. Slave auctions were held here three times a week at sunset, a practice that continued until the French arrived in 1912. Today, the only auctions are for wool, cloth and carpets.
The Criée Berbère is an exotic covered warren of dozens of small carpet shops. All are pretty much the same and if the shop you choose doesn’t have something you want, the owner will just borrow one from a neighbouring shop that does.
If you are serious about buying a carpet, you must be prepared to spend some time here, choosing what you want and negotiating the price. This is a delicate art, requiring patience, humour and a lot of mint tea. A good carpet seller will be able to tell you the intricate stories behind the patterns and motifs, making your buying experience all the more enjoyable. If you immerse yourself in the process, and stick to your budget, you will walk away not only with a carpet that you love and that didn’t cost the earth, but also with an authentic, unique piece of Moroccan folklore.
Don’t ask the price of something unless you are willing to buy it. Be prepared to take your time. The general rule of thumb is to offer half of the seller’s first price and go from there. There is never a ‘correct price’ – if you want something and are happy to pay the price, then you have paid the right amount.
Read more about the cultural features of Morocco in Insight Guides: Morocco
If you want to visit a destination that is ancient, mysterious and breathtakingly beautiful, then Morocco is for you. Whether you want to haggle in Marrakech's evocative souks, trek across the High At...Read full description