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Berber Rugs and Carpets: Symbols, Stories and History!

While there’s very little information concerning the origins of Berber symbols that are used in rugs, some articles do offer some insight. And being the rug aficionados that we are, we gave Bruno Barbatti’s tome “Berber Carpets of Morocco” a read. And it was absolutely fascinating.

Berber Carpets of Morocco Book by the Swiss author, Bruno Barbatti.

Defining Symbols on Berber Carpets

Much like the entire Moroccan race, our office is 90% of Berber origins. Learning about Berber culture and its contribution to Morocco was crucial during our upbringing. School, family, and our surroundings all provided us with information about the Berber people - our ancestors and the first inhabitants of what is now Morocco.

To make things clearer, the Berber carpets in question are mainly from the Middle Atlas, the Haouz, The High Atlas, and mostly eastern Morocco. Rugs that are made in these places are usually decorated with unique geometric patterns: checkers, bands, diamonds, scissors (X shape), twigs, ladders, lozenges, medallions, and sometimes random rectangles.

Berber Wool Carpet with a Diamond Symbol
Overture. A Berber Rug with Berber Symbols.

Symbols, in Berber rugs’ case, are conventional representations of protective wards and emblematic wishes. Depending on the occasion and the person buying or using the rug, they may wish upon them to be fertile, protected, and ‘enhance’ their survivability.

However, contrary to popular belief, the symbols, sometimes, were representations of nature, agriculture, and gender. By the use of certain colours and patterns, rugs would boast a colourful appeal that speaks something of significance.

Two dominating motifs and patterns are frequently used in Berber rugs and Moroccan culture, in general, are the evil warding eye and the lucky hand. The former is basically an embroidered eye that keeps evil spirits, djnoun, away.

Close up of Green, Cyan and Yellow Symbols on a Moroccan Carpet

One of Nomad33's Berber Carpets with Berber Symbols. 

Berber Carpets and Symbols are All Around!

Throughout the Mediterranean world, the eye is featured on many pieces of traditional art. The latter is the Khmisa, a lucky charm in the shape of a hand that wards off the ‘envious eye’. It is believed that if you stare with envy at someone or something, you unwillingly wish harm upon them. The hand will also be found embroidered on a carpet, painted, and, sometimes, used as a doorknocker.

If we were to talk about all we’ve learned from our past experience, and include the tome, it’s very likely that this article will turn into a tome itself. So, we’ll leave you with this: traditional Berber symbols will be found all around, each symbol has a unique meaning, and each meaning has a backstory. 

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