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As the desert sun dipped behind the high mountains of the Atlas, I found myself in Ouarzazate, often referred to as the Gateway to the Sahara. Situated at a lofty 1,160 meters above sea level and named after the river that courses through it, this city of contrast struck me with its beauty and tranquillity.
The birth of Ouarzazate in 1928 marked a significant chapter in Morocco's history. It served as a military outpost and gradually transformed into an administrative capital for the Drâa region. What I found most striking was its spectacular geographic location. The city is perched atop a vast, arid plateau, offering a stark contrast to the nearby snow-dusted peaks of the High Atlas.
Over time, Ouarzazate has seen a burgeoning hotel industry, making it an ideal stopover for explorers like myself heading to the valleys of Dadès and Drâa. But beyond its stunning landscapes and travel conveniences, the city is a vibrant center of craftsmanship, which led me to the famous Ouzguita rugs of the Aït Ouaouzguite tribe.
The Aït Ouaouzguite region is nestled around the Mont-Siroua of the High Atlas, home to a confederation of around twenty sub-tribes, some of which are renowned for their traditional rural weavings. Among these are the stunning Ouzguita rugs, named after the tribe that shepherds the Aït-Barka sheep. The wool from these animals, long-fibred and silky, serves as the primary raw material for the rugs, giving them their unique characteristic.
About 30% of these rugs are crafted in the territory of the Aït Ouaya tribe, headquartered in Amerzeggane. Their rugs are a polychrome feast for the eyes, each knot intricately tied onto two chain threads, separated by four to six weft threads. What caught my attention was their distinctive artistic style – chains of small diamonds running longitudinally across the rug, drenched in vivid hues of yellow, red, black, or brown.
The remaining 70% of the Ouzguita rugs are produced by various tribes. Each rug is a standalone work of art, carrying a unique charm. They are woven with a symmetric knot, and between the older and more recent pieces, the rows of knots can vary from two to fourteen. Despite their short pile height (only 1.5 cm), they are incredibly lightweight compared to Middle Atlas rugs, weighing around 1.5 kg per square meter.
Exploring the workshops, I discovered a stunning array of artistic compositions. Among the Aït Abdallah tribe, I found rugs with a frequent use of a black background, encased by a knotted band adorned in yellow, red, white, and black. The Aït Tamassine tribe presented rugs with a light red field, sprinkled with small motifs and occasionally centered with a square medallion. Their unique feature? Wefts of different colors, visible only on the reverse side of the rug.
The Aït Semgane and Aït Ouagharda tribes particularly caught my attention, producing rugs of exquisite finesse. Framed by three to five bands and decorated with a medallion of nested, concentric diamonds, their rugs truly spoke to the depth of Moroccan craftsmanship.
My journey in Ouarzazate was a truly enlightening experience, unveiling the rich tapestry of Moroccan heritage. Through the vivid colors and intricate designs of Ouzguita rugs, I discovered stories of tribes, traditions, and timeless craftsmanship that continue to shape the cultural landscape of this captivating city.