On the heels of the popularity of our Marrakech and Beyond Marrakech pieces, we have decided to continue to create unique, interesting guides that engage Mushmina blog readers in the beauty, diversity, and creativity of incredible Morocco.
The Mushmina Team expertly knows and understands Morocco. Co-founder Heather, has lived in rural Central Morocco for over a decade and speaks fluent Darija (Moroccan Arabic) in order to be able to converse with our loyal weavers. Our creative director Katie understands and hones the creative spirit of our talented team of artisans. And I (Tara), have written countless real stories of Morocco in order to showcase the incredible uniqueness and array of talent of our skilled artisans.
This month we wanted to delve further into the gorgeous diversity of the country, and what better to showcase this distinctiveness than to embark on a rug tour of mystical Morocco! Moroccan rugs are as extraordinary and unique as the country itself. And luckily the choices are endless when it comes finding fabulous pieces that represent the gorgeous, whimsical flair of Moroccan artistry and creativity in rugs.
Here are our best suggestions for a fabulous rug shopping experience:
Tips For Buying Rugs In Morocco~
- Negotiation Nation– In a tourist city such as Marrakech, rug vendors are particularly savvy. You will absolutely want to bargain. Typically, you want to cut their first price up to 2/3 and then slowly work up. Be firm. Walk away if necessary. They will often call you back! But still, stand your game! One of my best tips is to leave and casually walk by later so that they see you. Perhaps even the next day. Not always, but often, they will call you back for more bartering.
- Tea Time– Moroccan rug shopping takes time. Do not rush your experience. Most likely, you will be offered a typical Moroccan tea and it’s customary to accept. And enjoy!
- Do Your Homework– Have an idea of what you would like beforehand.
- Play It Cool– Even if you see a rug that you just have to have, don’t appear too interested. Be casual. Ask questions. Take your time. Do not be pressured to rush in and out. The vendors will likely show you a bevvy of rugs and you are most welcome to take as much time as you like.
- Shape Like Africa? We always like to say that there are no alike Moroccan rugs. Much of the beauty of rugs here are their uniqueness. They are hand-woven, and this tends to produce rugs that are slightly wonky in shape and dimension. But this makes them all the more spirited and vibrant.
- Thread Theory– A good quality rug has a tight weave. Be sure to inspect the rug on both sides. The back of the rug should have nice, tight even knots. Again, no handmade rug will be perfect and this is its strength.
- The Co-Op Train– Many weavers claim to be part of a cooperative; when in fact, they are not. Ask for official paperwork and do your research beforehand if you are really set on getting a sustainably made Moroccan rug from a co-op.
- Dirhams Days– Make sure you bargain in dirhams. If you bargain in any other language, the price will inevitably be higher. Know your exchange rate! Vendors will often offer their ware in Euros or dollars and they happily bump up the price to their advantage.
- Cash Me– It’s best to buy your rugs in cash, as this will protect you from fees and exchange rates.
- Don’t Pull The Wool Over My Eyes– Just because a vendor says a rug is an antique (or vintage) doesn’t necessarily mean this is absolutely true. Sometimes rugs will be purposely worn to appear old, when in fact, they aren’t. Again, do your research, ask questions, and inspect your finds carefully.
- Snail Mail– Many of the established rug shops around Morocco offer shipping for an additional. They have the entire process down pat and wrap your up rug(s) with efficiency and ease. Just be sure that you get all of the shop’s details, but sending rugs is very common from Morocco overseas to the US, Europe and beyond.
- I Get By With A little Help From My Friends– Many towns and cities across Morocco have a government-sponsored artisanal center (‘ensemble artisanal’ in French), where one can find rugs (and other traditional Moroccan crafts) galore. The buildings are often quite sparse and a bit rustic, but there are definitely amazing rug deals to be had here! And oddly, often very few tourists. Ask your guide or do your research beforehand as they are occasionally located in an inconspicuous neighborhood.
Part of our mission at Mushmina is creating employment for female artisans. We proudly work with individual weavers, women’s co-ops, women’s groups and foundations in our quest to create meaningful jobs. The choices throughout the country are vast as each region has their own special type of rug. Moroccan rugs are also hand-woven on traditional wooden looms, with women often working out of their homes. We are proud to support this cottage industry endeavor. Here are some regions we suggest for your rug buying adventure.
Khemisset is one of the so-called rug meccas of Morocco. It’s not for the faint of heart as Khemisset is rustic and rural. You are likely to be the only tourist in the market when you go. Which certainly calls for an adventure! If you are up for a wide, open space crammed with busy vendors and livestock alike, with an old brick barn smack in the middle where the rug vendors are, then Khemisset will not disappoint. And the best part of the Khemisset Tuesday rug market is that all of the vendors are female. We particularly like Fatima and her crew of ladies; ask around and you will find her! Although Khemisset is most certainly off the tourist circuit, it’s worth a morning visit if you are a rug fanatic, and in love with flat weave wool kilims. Do note that the rug market takes place early. Get there by 7-8 am for the best choices. By 10 am, the ladies are packing up! Once you get to the open-air market (follow the donkey and horse carts), look for the large red brick building where the rug souk is held. If you buy several rugs, a man with a cart can help you back to your car for 20-30 dh.
‘Chaouen’, or the famed Blue City, is a small, artsy haven for rugs. Wander around the bite-sized medina (ancient walled city) and you will likely stumble upon some rug shopping gems. And delve deeper into the Rif Mountains above Chaouen and you will surely find some women’s weaving groups and cooperatives along the way.
North Central Morocco
We’re particularly fond of this quiet little town at the base of the Middle Atlas Mountains as one of our long-term, loyal women’s co-ops is based in Khenifra. Mushmina has been working with the ladies who make our gorgeously unique and colorful Khenifra Long Strands Button Necklaces for over a decade, so we are often in this region.
Khenifra is known for rugs in a pinkish red hue, mimicking the mountainous red rock landscape. Head into the center of town and ask for the ‘Souk Central des Tapis,’ an area a few steps off the main road with a dozen or so shops clustered together. The Souk Central des Tapis is open daily and Sunday morning is the weekly auction if you want to get a glimpse of rural weavers hauling their weekly creations into town. Prices are generally lower in Kenifra then in ‘tourist towns’ but see our tips above on negotiating.
The heart of many of Morocco’s gorgeous rugs, Boujad is about as unobtrusive as it gets. Boujadi rugs are a beautiful example of Moroccan art. The bustling rug market is on Thursdays; be sure to get there early for the best choices. Boujad is a picturesque little town with gorgeous mint green doors in its ancient walled city (medina). Fun fact-Boujad is where Mushmina’s story began as it is the town where Heather was a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2003-2005. The Mushmina team still collaborates with Halima, our lead weaver, and her neighbors that Heather has known for fifteen years.
Boujadi rugs are colorful, vibrant, and unique and these beauties come in hand-woven wool or chenille. Often, distinct patterns of nature or everyday life are carefully woven into the pieces, and the results are what puts Boujad on the map for its famous rugs.
Azrou is another little town that’s certainly off the beaten track, so to speak. Tourists are much more familiar with Ifrane, which is just a few kilometers down the road. Azrou is also close to the lovely cedar forest of Ifrane National Park, where you can see native Barbary Macaques (monkeys) along the windy road. However, Azrou is also the perfect stop for rug enthusiasts as the downtown area has a bevvy of little rug shops; most of which are coming from the Middle Atlas region. Pop in for the Tuesday souk or visit the many vendors on any other given day. We guarantee you will enjoy this break from the hustle and bustle of the bigger tourist cities. And if you are a nature lover, there are many opportunities for hiking in the surrounding forests and lakes.
Marrakech is arguably the most popular rug destination in Morocco, and vendors all over the city are eager to sell to tourists. It can be a bit overwhelming, so do your research beforehand and know what you want. We love meandering the massive rug market nestled behind the ‘Place Des Epices’ (Spice Market). Poke through the little walkways and behold! A treasure trove of rugs as far as the eye can see.
If you are looking for a one-stop rug shop in Marrakech, consider Les Nomades De Marrakech. They have a massive shop (one of the largest in Kech), reputable customer service, and rugs, rugs, rugs galore. The setting is one to see if you aren’t committed to buying a rug. Do leave plenty of time if you plan on going, though, as rug shopping takes time. Prices are not cheap but do negotiate. And be ready to drink Moroccan tea!
Asni is the idyllic little town about 1.5 hours southeast of Marrakech in the heart of the magnificent High Atlas Mountains. It’s a lovely, picturesque drive from Marrakech, with informal rug stands dotted on the roadside.
Cool fact-Asni is where the Eve Branson Foundation is based; Heather and Katie have proudly been collaborating with the talented artisans of EBF for several years now. The EBF weavers have looms set up in one of their three the craft centers and their handmade rugs are for sale in the EBF shop next to the picturesque Kasbah Tamadot (the famous Richard Branson hotel a few minutes further up the mountain). We love supporting the foundation where 50% of the proceeds go directly to the artisans and the other 50% is reinvested in training programs for the surrounding Berber villages.
We hope you enjoyed tips from the Mushmina team for off the beaten path rug shopping in Morocco. All of this adds up to a vibrant, bountiful bevvy of gorgeous Moroccan rugs; perfect for adding colorful, unique character to any room. And creating happy toes!
By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina Blogger and Director of Social Engagement.
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