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The Rug From The Atlas Mountains

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The Beni Ourain rug is one of humanity’s oldest textiles. It is believed that people have been weaving these beautiful rugs for at least ten thousand years, and maybe longer. Specifically, the people who weave the rugs are the members of seventeen tribes who live in the Rif mountains of Morocco.

Beni Ourain rugs are made from the wool of the sheep the tribes take care of, and though they appear similar at a casual look, there are differences in their colour, design and the symbols each tribe uses. Women traditionally hand weave the rugs, which often convey the history and folktales of the weaver's tribe. They often have good luck symbols and are seen as protection against ill fortune. Among the symbols a person might find on a Ben Ourain run are the lion's paw, the nose, the finger and the eye, which all represent good luck and protection. What looks like an ear of barley on a rug is a symbol of fertility. The rugs are woven with such sturdy materials and such skill that a well-made rug can last for a lifetime and be passed down as an heirloom.

Beni Ourain rugs were first used as blankets and not rugs. There’s no one way to weave them, so all of them are unique. The craft is passed down from mother to daughter, and weaving one rug can take as long as a year. The pile of the rug is often thick and soft, and the ground is often cream-coloured or white, with patterns and symbols in brown or black. Even the knots a buyer finds at the back of the rug are done in ways that are specific to each tribe. They may even be specific to a family.

Most Beni Ourain rugs do not have borders or fringe, and some of the weavers burn the edges a bit. This is also thought to bring good luck. If a Beni Ourain rug is dyed, the weaver uses such natural products as pomegranate, henna, saffron and mint, so a handwoven rug may even have a delicious smell as well as good looks. A buyer can also tell authentic Beni Ourain rugs because they will never be more than seven feet in width or length. If the rug is larger than this, it is not handwoven or original.

An authentic Beni Ourain rug should be sent out to be cleaned once or twice a year by a rug expert who knows how to clean and repair them.

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