Magical Carpets of Turkey

Rug weaving has been a tradition in Anatolia (Turkey) since the 13th century. This is confirmed by well-preserved carpets and fragments dating from the Seljuk period. Oktay Aslana pa in his essays “Turkish Arts” has attempted to prove that the ancestors of the Seljuks were making carpets as long ago as the 3rd century and by the 13th century they were exporting large numbers of carpets to Egypt. Marco Polo wrote about the wonderful and beautiful carpets woven by the Greeks and Armenian states in Turkomania. The most important towns that were early weaving centers were Konya, Kayseri and Sivas.

In 1517 the conquest of Egypt by the Ottomans had considerable influence on the development of Turkish carpets. The ottoman sultans not only kept the carpet manufactory of the Mameluke court in operation but even enlarged it and when they eventually retreated from the Nile they transferred the factory to the shores of the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul in 1844.

Another important event which effected the production of carpets was the expansion of the Ottoman empire into Transcaucasia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 16th century. The Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I, was forced to hand over to Suleiman the Magnificent not only the provinces he desired but also a large quantity of carpets and two thousand bales of silk. In Armenia, extremely beautiful and precious carpets, some containing gold or silver thread were woven at this time. The special skills in weaving and secret methods of producing dyes from organic substances were soon passed on to Anatolia (Turkish) weavers. The carpet weavers at the Safavid Court to the west and with those at the court of the Great Moghul to the east. The intercourse resulted in the weaving of some of the most splendid carpets ever produced and it is for this reason the 16th century can be described as the “golden age” in the history of carpets. The great patrons primarily responsible for this golden age were Shah Abbas I in Isfahan, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the Great Mogal Akbor in Lahore.

Carpet weaving developed independently in central Anatolia am area uninfluenced by these historical events. The main centers of production still use the designs and motifs favored in the 16th century. Central Anatolia (Turkish) rugs were the first to be imported by the Europeans. These Oushak carpets are often seen in Flemish and Dutch paintings. Certain types were given names as “Lotto” and “Holbein” carpets. Oushak carpets were originally a sort of status symbol found only in homes of princes and rich merchants. Oushaks were frequently used in Christian cathedrals and churches in the west. These early oushaks are not like the ones we see today; they were finer and more intricately woven. The “star” oushak as seen in Figure I is an excellent example of the rugs of the golden age and into the 1844 period. This rug is in the collection of the Textile Museum of Washington D.C. This classic design on red field with star medallions in gold and indigo is the type seen in master paintings.

Turkey is also known for the very fine Kilims they produced and still produce. The rug in Figure II is an example of on 18th century Kilim. Perhaps some of the more collectible rugs are the early prayer rugs. The Ladik “column” carpet Figure III dates from the 18th century and is an excellent example of design woven from 16th century rugs that we see on the market today are late 19th century and early 20th century. Oushaks were woven until approximately 1935.

Figure IV shows the type of antique rug we see in the market today. They are becoming rare and hard to find due in large part to their popularity. The colors and openness of design of the 19th and early 20th century rugs are easier to work with than some of the basic Persian carpets. For this reason they are sought after by designers.

Many factors have played a role in the origin and development of Annotation carpets and of their decoration. The most important of these factors have been the history of the country, its cultural heritage, the influence of foreign invaders from east and west and, in particular, the migration, in the 10th century of tribes from the banks of the Oxus who settled first all on the shores of Bosphorus. That is why we find so many variations in weaves from Turkish knot to Persian knot, designs, and quality of rugs in one country.

© 1997 Katherine Blair

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