Of all the many types of Moroccan rugs, Beni Ourain rugs may be the most revered. Made by hand in isolated villages in Morocco’s rugged Atlas mountains, these unique rugs were not widely known in the West until the middle of the twentieth century. Their signature geometric designs captured the attention of early 20th century artists, who imported them to Europe.
Traditionally Beni Ourain rugs were used as bedcoverings by the Berber tribespeople. However, their thick and fluffy wool pile makes for an ideal floor covering. Today, both handmade rugs from Morocco and machine-made rugs of similar design have become popular additions to modern interiors.
The History of Beni Ourain Rugs:
True Moroccan Beni Ourain rugs are still produced today in the Atlas Mountains. Berber shepherds tend flocks of ancient -breed Marmoucha sheep, selecting only the silkiest wool over several seasons until enough is collected for a rug. The traditional ivory and brown/black combination comes from the natural colors of the undyed sheep’s wool. There are seventeen different Berber tribes and some use natural dyes in their rug designs, so it’s not unusual to see brightly colored Moroccan rugs as well.
Source: Morocco Tours
The weaving work is usually done by women, often working in pairs. The geometric designs come from centuries-old traditions, but they also incorporate symbols that are personal to the weaver. They may refer to local events, aspects of daily life, fertility, nature, and religion. Words, letters, and symbols to ward off evil are often included. These heirloom weavings can take months or years to produce, and no two are alike.
Beni Ourain rugs were rarely found outside of the Atlas Mountains until after 1912, when Morocco was brought under French and Spanish rule. Increased travel and trade between Morocco and Europe brought these amazing pieces to the European market. The free-form geometric designs of Beni Ouarain rugs inspired modern architects like Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier, who combined Berber rugs with sleek modern furniture:
Credit: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Museum.
Artist Paul Klee’s exposure to them was directly evident in his work, and Henri Matisse was fond of them as well. This is why we see Moroccan rugs in mid-century interiors; and the revival of mid-century design has made them popular again today.
Beni Ourain Rugs In Today’s Interiors:
Modern interior designers have embraced tribal rugs as a source of color and character to ground a room. Rug production spans the globe, and there are beautiful rugs at every price point that are influenced by the historic designs of the Berber people. The geometric patterns are at home in both traditional and modern rooms. So the next time you see a diamond-patterned shag rug, remember it was born out of a 2,000 year old tradition.