You really haven't visited Morocco if you haven't sat through at least one "How We Make Our Amazing Rugs (And We Won't Let You Leave Until You Buy One)" presentation. I actually went to Morocco with the intention of buying a rug, so when Hassan asked if we were interested in visiting a rug co-op "to see how rugs are made" (rather than the actual purpose, which was "to buy a rug so I can get a commission"), we said "Sure!"
We went to what must have once been a very, very fine home in the Fes medina. Based on other pictures I've found on the internet, I think we visited the shop with the lovely French name of "Aux Merveilles du Tapis" (or "Wonders of the Carpet" in English). The inner courtyard has become a rug display area, and the high balconies of the second and third floors are perfect for hanging large carpets.
This building was originally owned by a Jewish family. I have in my notes that it was built in 1325 AD, but a date carved on the wall says 1359. Either way, it's ancient by American standards. Judging by the wall decor and the level of maintenance, those who have lived here for the last 800 years have been very wealthy.
Close-up of the center medallion. Note the Arabic script for "Allah" in the center:
More beautiful patterns:
Even the floor is beautiful. This looks like a great pattern for a quilt:
The ubiquitous carved plaster panels never ceased to astonish me with their originality and fine design:
The shopkeepers took us upstairs to see some samples of carpet looms. We were told that the carpets are made by women who work mostly from home, two to three hours a day. One rug takes months, depending on the size, which I could understand as I tried to fathom how one is made at all on a loom like this:
Close-up of the warp yarns stretched tight on the loom:
The colorful weft yarns are woven through the warp to create patterns:
This woman is setting up the warp lines for a new rug. Note the earbuds. I wonder what music she is listening to?
The beautiful carved plaster adornments are even found on the very top floor:
Looking down at the kaleidoscope design on the courtyard from the upper levels made me a little
Here is the fountain seen from above. I wish I knew who the mysterious man in the white cap is:
We made it to the roof and were rewarded with a good view of the emerald green zigzag roofs of the University of Al Quaraouiyine (yes, that's 8 vowels to 4 consonants). It was founded in 859 AD, and according to UNESCO and the Guiness World Records, it's the oldest continually operating educational institution in the world (although that is disputed by some) and the first to award degrees.
The universities Bob and I attended, in contrast, were established about 1,000 years later: 1850 (University of Utah) and 1875 (BYU); and 1,100 years later: 1949 (University of San Diego).
After they had shown us all the beautiful sites, the rug sellers finally got down to business, sitting us down in an alcove, having us take off our shoes (so we
couldn't run away could walk on the carpets), and starting the tea ceremony--until we said no tea. Then they brought us bottles of cold water and glasses.
They spread out rug after rug on the floor in front of us until they were several layers deep. The rugs were of various origins: Arab, Berber, Bedouin, Middle Atlas, Anti-Atlas, etc.
(I know I took more pictures of the process, and at least one picture posed one with the man in charge and our new rugs, but they have disappeared into the great Photo Vault in Heaven, and this is all I have.)
At one point the rug seller asked me if I worked. When I said "Yes, I am a teacher," he kissed my hand and said, "Big heart but very little money." Then he got around to what he really wanted to know--what Bob did for a living--and Bob replied that he was also a teacher, which is not a total lie as he has taught a class at UCR and teaches at church occasionally. The rug seller looked a little disappointed. Surprisingly, he didn't kiss Bob's hand. Even more surprisingly, shopkeepers at future places our guide took us to also somehow knew that we were both teachers. Word of impoverished customers apparently spreads fast in Morocco.
After about an hour of ooh-ing and ah-ing and listening to the spiel ("Our rugs are much finer quality than anything you can buy in the souk" and "You will take your cheaper rugs home and find out that they are no good") and heavy bargaining, we selected two rugs (and still probably paid too much for them). Both are Bedouin products. One is an older rug made in the 1940s, and one is new.
The newer one is waiting for our kitchen remodel to be finished, but we have hung the older one in our living room. I love the colorful design and the sense of stars, mountains, and valleys. Its many intricate patterns will always say "Morocco" to us: