Beautiful dilemmas: Rug shopping in Marrakech

You see them from rooftop restaurants . . .

From a rooftop restaurant, you can enjoy the market scenery including rows of rugs hanging from balconies.

and you pass them by on your way in and out of the medina . . .

Rugs hang near the doorway of a shop in the Marrakech medina.

Rugs hang near the doorway of a shop in the Marrakech medina.

but there’s nothing like a couple of hours being courted by salesmen in a Marrakech rug shop!

Chef Joanne Weir gets a hug from a favorite rug salesman in Marrakech.

Chef Joanne Weir gets a hug from a favorite rug salesman in Marrakech.

From the minute you step in the door, you’re bombarded with colors, textures, and salesmen guiding your every step.  Rugs are ready, beckoning you to come inside to look, to touch, and to make you wish you could buy one for every room of your home.

Stacked on the floor are the now-popular white and black rugs popular in today's American decor.

Stacked on the floor are the now-popular white and black rugs popular in today’s American decor.

Waiting for someone to come back to the loom at a Marrakech rug shop.

Waiting for someone to come back to the loom at a Marrakech rug shop.

If you’re lucky, you may meet someone who’s mastered the art of weaving, someone who’s made it her day-to-day profession, as hard as it may be.  Weavers study patterns and then get to work, picking up one strand at a time and weaving methodically in, out, in, out until the job is done.

A weaver pauses to show us her work.

A weaver pauses to show us her work.

You may see rugs in piles . . .

Even in Morocco, gray is a popular color for decorating. Here, rugs wait to be selected by customers ready to decorate.

Even in Morocco, gray is a popular color for decorating. Here, rugs wait to be selected by customers ready to decorate.

or hung over balconies.

Upstairs, more rugs are piled high and flopped over the balcony rails. Rugs everywhere!

Upstairs, more rugs are piled high and flopped over the balcony rails. Rugs everywhere!

But when you finally take a seat in the showroom, you are treated to a presentation like no other as men unfurl for your scrutiny one hand-woven art piece at a time.

You can leave your comfortable viewing seat to touch and feel, take pictures, and imagine how a rug would look in a room back home.

Two California ladies shop for Moroccan rugs.

Two California ladies shop for Moroccan rugs.

Or you can stay seated while someone dramatically pours hot, freshly brewed mint tea into a glass cup for you to sip while you stare at the one-at-time show.

A salesman pours mint tea in dramatic Moroccan fashion for customers.

A salesman pours mint tea in dramatic Moroccan fashion for customers.

Longing for a blue-patterned rug?  They’ll bring it out.  Something more traditional? They’ll probably have whatever you want — just ask.

A contemporary rug incorporating a traditional diamond pattern

A contemporary rug incorporating a traditional diamond pattern

And then it all comes down to choices, of course, and how much you can afford to ship home from Morocco. Since deciding is not for the faint of heart, here are a few tips we learned from our experience.

  • Enjoy the education.  Salesmen will want to show you as many styles as possible and then ask what you like.  Treat that “show” as an education as you learn the differences between Berber and Kilim rugs, traditional versus contemporary, and hand-knotted versus printed, etc.  If you have a culture, color, or pattern in mind, let the salesmen know.  But if you don’t even know enough to ask (That would be us), allow the salesmen to share what they know with you.  You’ll never regret this hands-on, right-in-front-of-you parade of culture and history.  (It was one of the best learning days we had in Morocco.)
  • Stacked to the ceiling, hand-woven rugs in Marrakech.

    Narrow your choices down to seven rugs, then five, then three.  It’s hard to send rugs back to the shelves, but do it. And do it carefully. You may not be able to see a rejected rug again if the sales people put it back in a piled-high stack in another room. Narrowing your choices helps you eliminate rugs you can live without so you can focus on just a few.

  • Ask the price but know that the quoted price is not the final one.  Offer less — as much as half of what the asking price is.  But be willing to move back up.  You want to honor the workmanship by paying for the hours spent in design and weaving.  But you also want to pay what’s fair for both of you.
  • Negotiate shipping.  Sometimes shipping is included; sometimes not.  Ask.  If you’d rather not pay for shipping, see if the shop can roll up your rug, bind it, and add a handle to the package to carry it onto the plane.  You can save money by taking it yourself, but it may not be worth the effort.  (We bought 4 rugs, had them shipped and never looked back.)
  • Mark your goods.  A reputable rug dealer may ask you to initial your rug on the back near the edge.  If you do, you’ll know when you get home that the rug shipped to your door is indeed the one you selected.
Admiring this dramatic but simple rug with woven symbols are three shoppers from California.

Admiring this dramatic but simple rug with woven symbols are three shoppers from California.

One thing’s for sure.  You learn a lot about culture, regional patterns, and salesmanship from the best sales people in the city.  And, if you’re lucky, you’ll make friends at places you’ll want to come back to.  Buying rugs from reputable dealers can be one of the most memorable experiences of a stay in Marrakech — or anywhere in Morocco, for that matter.

Explaining that diamond shapes represent females, this tour guide in the Ourika Valley helped us understand the history of rug making in Morocco.

Explaining that diamond shapes represent females, this tour guide in the Ourika Valley helped us understand the history of rug making in Morocco.

Click on Marvelous Morocco for more posts on this fascinating country and its culture.

For more pictures from Morocco, check us out on Flickr.

About Oh, the Places We See

Met at University of Tennessee, been married for 47 years, and still passionate about travel whether we're volunteering with Habitat Global Village, combining work at Discovery with pleasure, or just seeing the world. Hope you'll join us as we try to see it all while we can!
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12 Responses to Beautiful dilemmas: Rug shopping in Marrakech

  1. Dear person,
    You deserve a life full of happiness and positively! So don’t let others get to you and believe in yourself.
    Who am i?
    I am just a Dreamer. A hopeful, romantic, unsupervised living within the world of eyes; fighting for what lies beyond appearances, trying to find my way to somewhere I belong.
    -Mehak khorana

  2. Oh wow, I would love one of these rugs someday. But choosing one is going to be a nightmare as they are all beautiful!

    • You are so right about the beauty of the rugs in Morocco. I wanted so many. Choosing is a nightmare since they are all enticing, but it came down to just a few. Wish I could return and buy more. ( I’m enjoying your travels in Shanghai!)

  3. Tina Schell says:

    Great post Rusha. You should have included a photo of the rugs you bought – I’m very jealous!!

    • Great idea, and I actually have two of them at my house. We gave the other two to my sons. One piece of advice I could have included is to take measurements while at home in order to purchase the sizes you need. We had no idea we would fall in love with rugs, so we weren’t as prepared as we should have been. So one of my rugs is rolled up in a closet. Who knows where it will end up. Still looking for just the right place!

  4. Peggy and I sat through a similar rug pitch in Turkey, except they poured me a stiff drink instead of a cup of tea. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Wow, that is a REALLY GREAT post. I am so jealous I cant wait to go!

    • Thanks so much! It was a really great rug shop! We visited two — one in Marrakech and one in Fes. Both had lovely inventory and both had men sharing knowledge about origin, patterns, etc. Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for shopping with us!

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