The history of Moroccan Amazigh carpet weaving

The history of Moroccan Amazigh carpet weaving

The Moroccan Amazighs have a long and illustrious tradition of making hand woven carpets and rugs.  With one of the largest Amazigh populations, Morocco is today one of the most prolific producers of carpets. Each of the forty-five or so Amazigh tribes scattered throughout the country has its own distinctive design, its own style of weaving and embroidery and its own art. However, all the carpets of the different tribes share two common characteristics: simplicity of design and richness of color, especially red and saffron.

Traditionally, carpets have been woven more for their utilitarian use than as decorative pieces. The carpets made by the tribes living in the Atlas Mountains region are thick with a heavy pile, while those made by the tribes living in the desert are light and flat woven, which implies that the nature of the climate has an effect on the azetta, the weaving of the region.

The history of Moroccan Amazigh carpets dates back to the Paleolithic, a prehistoric period characterized by the development of the first tools used by man. 

Traces of Amazigh motifs and tribal symbolism have been found in rock art and rock painting dating back several thousand years. In the absence of a written language, the weavers of antiquity recorded their myths and legends using glyphs and marks inlaid in their carpets and in caves.

Over the centuries, Tamazgha (Amazigh territory) was invaded and colonized by a series of empires that rose and fell over time, including the Romans, Ottomans, Arabs, Spanish, Portuguese and French. None of them managed to leave a more lasting impact than the Arabs, who succeeded in Islamizing the entire region and giving it an Arab identity, by force. However, the Amazighs stubbornly held on to their age-old and unique culture, mainly because they had been isolated for thousands of years before the invaders arrived.

The Amazigh carpets of the 20th century have the same transfer of glyphs and marks as the carpets of the distant past. Tribal weavers, who neither possess nor seek formal artistic training, continue to tell the same stories of yesteryear, passed down from generation to generation. Thus, looking at a traditional Moroccan Amazigh carpet gives the impression of looking at a century-old carpet preserved in a time capsule or an art and history book. This is their main attraction for Western buyers and collectors of rare pieces.

Moroccan Amazigh carpets of the 20th century still have the same design characterized by distinct knots, but they usually contain small dark flecks on a lighter background. Many of them have a mixture of plain colors without pattern.