Category Archives: Morocco

Morocco, including travels, the crafts and the culture

The carpets from Morocco are here!

Moroccan Carpet

Unpacking has never been such fun. There is something very earthy about Moroccan carpets, which is possibly what attracts me to them generally, and especially those made by the Berber tribes from the Ait Ouaouzguite region in the High Atlas. Most of my collection are Tazenakhts – the carpet capital of this region – known for their interesting borders and stylized central motif. The new sheep wool ones are from Mrirt in the Middle Atlas. Enjoy!

View all our Moroccan carpets for sale in the Arastan online store.

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Jewellery That Speaks

Niello Cross Pendant

The Berbers wear only silver. It has something to do with silver being the preferred metal of the prophet. Archival pictures show Berber women completely laden with the most unbelievable silver adornment. Today of course, these images are fewer thanks to the skyrocketing price of silver, but still, jewellery continues to be important, not just for its decorative value. It has protective symbolism, it is the family’s bank, to be melted and traded in lean times, bought and remade in good. The jewellery a woman wears is a symbol of her family’s status and wealth. So, interestingly, the woman and not the man is the family financier plus showpiece and bearer of its reputation.

Design of Berber jewellery is strongly influenced by the ancient Berber script, Tifinagh, based on which Berber languages are written. The characters in Tifinagh reflect a simple geometry of corners, circles, triangles and dots. This abstract …

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Intriguing Berbers

Young Berber woman

Everything about Morocco is intriguing… especially to someone like me who has never been there. The gorgeous tilework, the latticed windows, the tadelakt lamps, the tribal kilims… ahhhh, I want to go there…. Now!!!!!!!

So, when Nisha pulled out piece after piece of stunning Moroccan Berber jewellery, I couldn’t bear it any longer. If I wasn’t going to be on next flight to Marrakech, I had to get there by another route. Feeling quite like the Ibn Battuta of Richards Town, I set off instantly… up the High Atlas mountains and through the stark Sahara, to finally come face-to-face with chiseled Berber men and gorgeous women bedecked, from head to toe, in silver jewellery…. So ok, Battuta didn’t go out in search of Berbers, but he did leave Morocco and ended up travelling the silk routes for 33 years, on foot and horseback. That was Ibn and it was the …

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Morocco and Me

The place I was most apprehensive about doing business was Morocco (Iran and Turkmenistan which come next should probably worry me but don’t). Having spent the last couple of weeks here, I feel like Morocco and I can be friends. I have understood and accepted their system of working, which is that everyone gets a piece of the pie – taxi drivers, hotel staff, guides, policemen … and whilst it still registers, it has stopped bothering me as it did initially. That, finding a partner who is nice, has a zillion contacts and lovely helpful staff, and of course the carpets, lamps, sabra, metalwork, silver jewellery etc. has made this trip a huge success. I leave tired and content.

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Marrakech and Tiznit

Touareg style Berber Silver Pendant

My last few days have been in Marrakech with a mad day trip to Tiznit which is the last major town before the Western Sahara. It was so worth the hours of driving. Most women were dressed in what can only be described as saris but shorter with the pallu wrapped around the head and over the face so only the eyes show. Others had on traditional skirts with white embroidered dupattas covering their hair and faces. All very different from the djellaba I had seen elsewhere. I so wanted to take a photograph but thought it too culturally insensitive. The silver was overwhelming in choice and quantity. It’s understandable but sad to see Berber families coming to sell their family silver (gold is considered evil so this is their wealth), presumably to buy the cheap “Made in China” goods being sold on the streets. I couldn’t understand the negotiations …

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Grand Taxis and Clocking Lots of Miles

Medersa Bou Inania

I spent the morning in Fes with a quick detour to the Medersa Bou Inania, built between 1350 and 1357. No longer used as a theological school, the decoration is spectacular. Opposite is the strange and mind-boggling 14th century water clock. Of course, I had to go back to Café Clock and liked it as much this time as I did the last. The food and wi-fi are both winners!

And then had my first taxi negotiation! Within cities and towns you can use both grand and petit taxis with the latter being these banged up red bits on wheels that do surprisingly charge by the metre. For non-local travel you need a grand taxi and these have a fixed price that the ‘Controller’ will tell you. The discount when you ask for one is always the same, 100 dirhams no matter what the total cost is – percentage discounts …

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Silk, Pottery and Metalwork in Fes

Metalwork Craftsman

I had to squeeze through a 5 foot passageway to get to the fondouk that has housed a weaving “factory” for several centuries. Sabra is a silk fabric that is traditionally woven from the threads of a cactus plant (also known as Sabra). Strands of silk are removed from the cactus, dyed with natural dyes and woven into amazing fabric. I bought some very pretty silk bedcovers and chenille from the owner whose father, grandfather and more generations than he can remember, have woven Sabra here.

I also saw some gorgeous Fes pottery and mosaic work being made. Whilst I would love to source some for Arastan I really need to come back and spend several days picking a vendor, selecting and checking. This is the kind of place you see, you buy, you pack and you take with you; if you leave it to be packed and shipped later …

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Bronze Lamps, Berber Silver – and Nougat!

Hanging Lamps

In Fes I went to the lamp store I had in mind from the last time I was here. I passed the Place an-Nejjarine that has one of the many beautifully decorated fountains and a restored fondouk that is now a museum. At the Carpenters’ Souk just next to the fountain I saw some of the extravagant thrones used in weddings; these thrones make our Indian red velvet ones look modest!

I spent the greater part of the day haggling and now have some stunning Moroccan handmade bronze lamps on their way to India. While waiting for the owner’s brother or brother-in-law or partner (I really do need to learn some Arabic or French!) I wandered off to check what the other stores had to offer. Nougat was what I found. The lady spoke no English but after discussion using a calculator (if you don’t speak the local language, don’t leave …

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Travel to Fes

Before leaving Marrakech I saw some gorgeous lamps designed by a Frenchman. Unfortunately there is so much imitation going on that they won’t let you take photos. Prices were outrageous by any standard! Apparently the only people buying are interior designers refurbishing 5 star hotels from the large American hotel chain groups.

Then it was time to take the train to Fes. This was easy enough but the train was hot and crowded and took 7 hours. On the way I got to meet a musician from Fes on his way to perform in Rabat; I was astounded when he said he doesn’t really like Fes. (I suppose you always take what you have for granted!) People are very friendly and especially so when you say you are Indian: Bollywood has done much for our public relations!

Originally I intended to visit Marrakech at the end of my trip but …

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Marrakech Madness

Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Today I visited Riad Art Expo (now in its 7th year). I found some very nice decorative tadelakt lamps and other items, plus lovely hand embroidered towels made in the Fes style. Tadelakt is a bright, waterproof lime plaster which is found in the valley between the High and Middle Atlas Mountains; it was traditionally used on the walls of Marrakech and the underground cisterns, and became highly prized in hammams and royal palaces. More recently it has been a contemporary craze as an alternative to tiles in bathrooms in the US and Europe. It seems that every riad and dar in Morocco has tadelakt bathrooms.

Love it or hate it the heart of Marrakech is Djemaa el Fna which is a huge square in the heart of the medina. Whilst I could do without the snake charmers, the fresh orange juice, dry fruit stalls and traditional dancers are great. There are …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

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