A Guide to Berber Rugs

Berber rugs come from the Berber, or Amazigh, tribes of North Africa and the Sahara region, such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. 

Our Berber rug collection comes from master weaver Hocine Bazine in Ghardaïa, Algeria.

The walled city of Ghardaïa in the M'Zab Valley of Algeria is a world heritage site  that has preserved the same building techniques from the 11th century. Its traditional architecture is not alone in ancient practices that continue to thrive today. The method of weaving rugs on a vertical loom has passed down from generations.

While Ghardaïa is famous for its rugs year-round, the artisans' craftmanship is particularly on display during the Ghardaïa Carpet Festival, when all the best weavers of the region display their carpets in the annual competition. There, you'll see similar patterns from artisan to artisan, nodding to a symbolism deeply embedded in the Berber weaving history.

Who Are the Berber People

The Berber people, also known as Amazigh, are an indigenous ethnic group native to North Africa. Their rich history and unique cultural heritage have shaped the identity of the region for thousands of years.

Historical Roots

The Berber people have a deep-rooted history that predates the Arab and European influences in North Africa. Archaeological evidence suggests that Berber communities have inhabited the region for at least 4,000 years, with some sources indicating an even longer presence. Their historical footprint can be traced through ancient trade routes, agricultural practices, and distinctive artistic expressions.

Geographical Distribution

Berber communities are spread across a vast geographic expanse, primarily concentrated in North Africa. Countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are home to significant Berber populations. The diverse landscapes of the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert, and coastal regions have influenced distinct Berber cultures, creating a mosaic of traditions within the broader ethnic group.

Language and Identity

The Berber people have their own language, known as Tamazight, which is a part of the Afroasiatic language family. Tamazight has several regional dialects, contributing to the linguistic diversity within the Berber communities. Despite the historical influences of Arabic and French in North Africa, efforts to preserve and promote Tamazight have gained momentum in recent years, reflecting a commitment to preserving the Berber cultural identity.

Cultural Traditions

Berber culture is characterized by a rich tapestry of traditions, including music, dance, art, oral storytelling, and rug weaving. Traditional Berber music often features unique instruments such as the bendir and the imzad, while distinctive geometric patterns and vibrant colors adorn their arts and crafts. Berber festivals and celebrations, such as the Amazigh New Year (Yennayer), showcase the resilience and continuity of their cultural practices.

What is a Berber Rug?

Berber rugs have a long and storied history, dating back centuries to the nomadic Berber tribes of North Africa. Woven by hand using traditional techniques, these rugs served both practical and symbolic purposes within Berber communities. 

Many know the Berber rugs from Morocco, but lesser known, but just as colorful and artfully crafted, are rugs from Ghardaïa, Algeria, a UNESCO world heritage site where weavers create sheep's wool rugs in a traditional style that has existed for centuries. There, many rugs are flat-weaves with embroidered geometric designs. Other rugs are hand-knotted, where the weaver ties the yarn around the warp threads. The hand-knotted rugs are uniquely known for their characteristic pile, which is often dense and plush, providing a soft and warm texture.

How a Berber Rug is Made

Berber rugs are meticulously handwoven by skilled artisans, predominantly Berber women who have inherited the craft from their ancestors. The process involves using a combination of natural materials, including locally sourced wool and sometimes camel hair. The result is a durable and high-quality rug that reflects the weaver's expertise and the region's natural resources.

Preparing the Wool

The first step of the process begins with the selection and preparation of high-quality wool. Typically sourced from local sheep, the wool is meticulously cleaned and sorted to ensure uniformity in texture and color. Skilled artisans clean, comb, and spin the wool to ensure it is of the highest quality before it is woven into a rug. This initial step is crucial in determining the rug's durability and the final appearance of its pile.

Dyeing the Wool

Once the wool is prepared, it undergoes the dyeing process, where artisans use natural pigments to achieve the distinct color palette characteristic of Berber rugs. Berber weavers often employ plant-based dyes, extracting colors from sources such as indigo, saffron, and henna. Artisans skillfully blend pigments to create the nuanced tones.

Then they dye the wool

Preparing the Loom

Traditional Berber looms are often vertical and consist of a framework of wooden beams. The preparation involves stretching the warp threads vertically, creating the foundation for the rug. The careful arrangement of these threads determines the size and structure of the final rug.

Vertical Loomwork

The actual weaving process takes place on the vertical loom. The weaver interlaces the wool with the warp threads, creating the intricate patterns and designs that define Berber rugs. The technique used is predominantly the "pile knot" or "Berber knot," where each individual knot is tied around a pair of warp threads. The density of these knots contributes to the plushness of the rug's pile.

Alternatively, handwoven Berber rugs involve the weaver interlacing the weft threads (horizontal threads) over and under the warp threads (vertical threads) without the use of knots. This flatweave technique results in a rug with a different texture and appearance compared to hand-knotted rugs. The absence of knots makes handwoven Berber rugs thinner and well-suited for various applications, such as wall hangings or lighter floor coverings.

Guide to Berber Rug Patterns

Many rugs tell a visual story through intricate patterns and symbols that convey aspects of Berber culture, spirituality, and daily life.

In the region of Ghardaïa, it is custom for a bride’s mother and grandmother to make rugs for her new home. Many of the patterns represent an item the bride will have in her new home, such as the wedding bed, jewelry, or a suitcase.

Our Berber rug collection comes from master weaver Hocine Bazine in Algeria. He has created a guide of some of the traditional motifs.

Berber rug motif of an ankle bracelet

Big ankle bracelet, or Khalkhal

Berber rug motif of a weaving tool

Weaving tool

Berber rug motif of the bridal bed

Bridal bed

Berber rug motif of a bride's suitcase

Bride's suitcase

Berber rug motif of a bride's brooch

Bride's brooch

Berber rug motif of a bride's key to her room

Bride's key to her room

Berber rug motif of pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate seeds

Berber rug motif of the bride

The bride

Berber rug motif of a bride's necklace

Bride's necklace

Berber rug motif of a table where the family gathers

 Table where the family gathers

Berber rug motif of a chandelier


Berber rug motif of scissors


Berber rug motif of scorpion


Symbols that Bring a Berber Rug to Life

By learning how to interpret the symbolism, each rug begins tells its own story. The geometric patterns come to life to tell of the bride who is creating a new home, but carries these rugs from the women and community that raised her. A tradition she will one day continue for the next generation.

For me, I picture a scene where she is packing her bags, and bringing items that she has grown up around her whole life. I imagine she finds comfort in each piece she packs, that collectively they will make a new place feel like home.

Knowing that these symbols have been on the rugs of the mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers of the region, I see the thread of that story going back centuries. I imagine the pride of each mother as she creates a rug for another bride. It's incredible how I once looked at a piece and saw nothing more than beautiful patterns, and how now the rug has been transformed into so much more.

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