My desire for a Beni Ourain rug, a traditional Berber rug from the Atlas mountains in Morocco, has not been a secret (see here)!
So I’m not going to pretend my recent trip to Marrakech wasn’t at least partially influenced by the need to get my hands on one.
I know I am not alone in my love for these simple, versatile rugs so here are my tips for buying a Beni Ourain rug from Marrakech. This is from my experience only. I don’t profess to being an expert by any means but I am happy with my purchase, so my experience may help you too.
Mountains or medina
Before I went I spent some time researching online and getting pretty scared and put off. I read you could only buy Beni Ourains from the Atlas mountains otherwise you would be ripped off, paying too much for a piece of tat. I didn’t experience this in real life. The souks in Marrakech are full of carpet and rug sellers, with many of them having towers of Beni Ourain rugs. I was spoiled for choice, not by fakes or by too expensive items but by genuinely gorgeous rugs that were much cheaper than anything half as nice back home. I bought from the medina and have no regrets.
Real or fake
There are vintage Beni Ourains that were made years and years ago – these are beautiful, but understandably pricey as many vintage things are. But you can also get newer Beni Ourains, made by the Berber women today living in the North-Eastern Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. This doesn’t mean they are fake – they are just not vintage. Newer Beni Ourain rugs can be extremely good value, really lovely and excellent quality.
Again, if you do a quick Google you will come across a lot of scare stories about fake rugs made from synthetic materials or lined with cotton. Traditional Beni Ourain rugs are made from 100% sheeps wool. I looked at two rug stalls and all the rugs I looked at were 100% wool, beautifully made and as far as I can tell 100% authentic. Check the quality of the rug yourself – check the back of it, the weave, the material. If you think it looks well made, be happy about it.
High or low
In Morocco there is never the right price for something. You pay what you are happy to pay. Go in with a rough figure in mind and don’t ask for the price of something until you really would like to buy it. It is likely you will first be offered an incredibly inflated price. Don’t be offended by this, it is just the way. Halve or even quarter it and start your negotiations until you reach what you would be happy to pay.
Cash will often give you some additional negotiation power, as will buying more than one item.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much we paid for our rug. I was able to buy and get home a rug that is 6ft by 11ft for less than what I could have bought one for in a department store in the UK.
How to get it home
Getting a rug home from Morocco is surprisingly easy. Once you have picked and paid for your rug, they’ll fold it in half, roll it up tight, wrap it up in a type of woven plastic wrapping and sew it in making you a handle to carry it with and all in about five minutes. For us buying a reasonably large rug, it was the size of one bag to go in the hold of the airplane.
We had pre-booked extra baggage in anticipation, and it was as easy as checking it in with my suitcase. If you buy a bigger rug, you can book more than one additional piece of luggage. As long as your item is equivalent in space to the baggage you have booked that is fine. It doesn’t actually need to be in the baggage!
Of course, check with your airline before doing this in case it differs from airline to airline.
For those of you who can’t make it to Marrakech, you can buy online or from Ebay but they do tend to do a bit more expensive this way. There are reproductions as well. Try Loaf, Graham and Green and John Lewis.
Happy rug shopping! If you have any additional tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments.