Moroccan Crafts – Prized Abroad
Morocco, a hot-spot for travelers yearning to pick up fashionable leatherwear or some of the finest carpets, was noticed for its wares even before the 1500s, when merchant ships from Europe would make the rather short voyage to the North African coast to barter and trade for riches that would sell for twenty times higher in parts of France and England.
Morocco continues to produce some of the finest wares in carpet, pottery, leather, spices, and art. The Moroccan government, now under rule by King Mohammed VI, works hard to ensure that corporations hoping to exploit their products don’t overrun local small businesses and craftsmen. There continues to be something magical about walking in the medina in Fez, for example, and seeing a craftsmen or a women’s carpet cooperative hard at work.
Before the introduction of Islam into Morocco, artists produced wares that were not limited by religious precepts. This gave something to Moroccan art that would have never been discovered without it – the motif. With designs that perpetually weave and interlace, motifs give a mix of geometrical genius with tribal history. This fusing of arts has also brought greater emphasis on Arabic calligraphy on other mediums, such as that found on pottery, copperware, and inside medersas, or theological schools. Even though Islam has set certain standards in the way of art, it hasn’t controlled much in the way of other textiles and jewelry that tends to be made of silver for men and gold for women.
For a traveler to find the most appealing crafts and wares, whether you are searching for pottery, such as a famed tagine, or a simple Berber carpet, it is best to simply make a day of the venture. Since so many small shops line the small, labyrinth-like streets of the medinas, it might be hard to know who actually offers quality material at a fair price. While the art of bargaining is best for those most patient, if a traveler wants to first see what a certain region offers, they should first visit the town or city’s ensemble artisanal.
An ensemble artisanal is a French concept that transliterates to an artists’ cooperative. These areas tend to have local artisans producing their wares inside shops where they sell their goods. And, the best aspect about these shops is that there is usually no hassle to buy, no bargaining to be done, and prices are often marked. While some of the prices can be a bit higher than in certain souk (outdoor market) areas, the quality of the craftsmanship and the support to the actual workers and local economy is worth the investment. So, for those who don’t want to bargain or sip mint tea while looking through a hundred different carpets as a suave salesman boasts about the quality of his products, the ensemble artisanal is the place to start.
The next time you travel to Morocco, make sure you schedule time to shop. The prices on crafts and wares are unbeatable, items are shipped or transported easily, and they make great gifts for friends and family. Finding quality materials isn’t difficult, especially in the more visited souqs and medinas of Fez and Marrakesh. But, expect to pay higher prices than you would if you visited an area where the wares, textiles, or Moroccan carpets are produced. An artists’ cooperative is a great place to get your bearings before wandering through areas where prices are unmarked and tourists are often quoted higher prices, which means you MUST bargain – what many would call a Moroccan national sport!