History of Turkish Carpets, Rugs and Kilims

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Story of Handmade Turkish Rugs

History of Turkish Carpets, Rugs and Kilims

One of the visiting points of both local and foreign tourists in Turkey are carpet workshops. Almost every region of Anatolia has carpets with peculiar adornment and colors. These nice pieces reflect a tradition that is passed on from generation to generation.

The history of Turkish carpets are generally divided into two types. The first category is early Turkish carpets adorned with geometric motifs and nature depictions; second category is classical period Ottoman carpets adorned with flower motifs and medallion emblems.

History of Turkish Carpets and Kilims

The history of Turkish carpets date back to the nomadic roots of the Turks in the Central Asia. Carpet had a strong influence in nomadic tribes. Because they were moving quite often and lived in tents, carpet was a portable object which made the ground easy to step on.

Initially, carpet was used due to its functionality and later it had decorative features in order to adapt to tents and surrounding environment. The oldest carpet is Pazyryk carpet dating back to 400 BC. Found during archeological excavations in Siberia, the history of this carpet date back to the period of Scythians. It is exhibited today in Hermitage Museum in Russia.

Oldest Surviving Rug In The World

Oldest Carpet in the World

Pazyryk Carpet

Seljuk Carpets: Anatolian Early Period Carpets

The oldest known Seljuk carpets are the 13th Century ones in Alaeddin Mosque.

Seljuk Empire era carpets embody characteristically blue and red tones, some arabesque motifs and kufic script. Kufic is a calligraphic depiction of Arabic letters in straight and angular lines. Kufic motifs can be found on the edge of Seljuk carpets with pointy ends like arrow and hook-like motifs.

One of the things that make the carpets special is a weaving method peculiar to Turkish carpets called Ghiordes knot. Ghiordes knot is a double knot weaving style which makes the carpets stronger and more enduring.

In the 13th Century, famous traveler Marco Polo who visited Anatolia noted that the best carpets were weaved in Sivas and its surrounding area which he called Turkomanya.

In the 14th Century, another traveler, Ibn Battuta praised Turkish carpets and wrote that the carpets were exported into all the known trade centers of the world.

Konya (Iconium) Seljuk Turkish Carpet 13th Century

Turkish Anatolian Seljuk Carpets

Konya (Iconium) Seljuk Turkish Carpet 13th Century

Turkish Carpets in European Renaissance Art

The beauty of Turkish carpets took the attention of Europeans. Palaces and houses of aristocrats were decorated with these carpets. Artistic potential of glamorous carpets engaged the interest of Europe’s famous painters.

Including Renaissance painters Hans Holbein, Lorenzo Lotto and Hans Hemling, many famous painters included Turkish carpets in their pieces.

Some of the carpets made famous by European painters can be found today in Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (Ibrahim Pasha Palace) in Sultanahmet.

Turkish Rugs in Holbein Paintings

Turkish Carpets in European Painting

Hans Holbein Carpets

Turkish Rugs in Lorenzo Lotto Paintings

types and history of turkish carpets

Lorenzo Lotto Carpets

Ottoman Carpets ve Iranian and Egyptian Rugs

During the rule of Selim I, when Tabriz in 1515 and Cairo in 1517 was captured by Ottomans, motifs of Turkish carpet changed significantly. Geometric motif of Anatolian carpet was no longer used.

Carpet masters from Cairo and Persian influence due to Tabriz, Turkish carpets started to be adorned with complicated motifs. The distinctive point of classical period Ottoman carpets is the inclusion of medallion emblems signifying the sultanate and flower motifs.

Carpets made in Konya (Iconium), Kayseri (Cesaria), Usak (Oushak) and Bergama (Pergamon) decorated the palaces of European dynasties for long years. Italian city states which ruled the sea trade from Istanbul to Europe and especially the Venetians made carpet trade a profitable job.

Turkish Anatolian Oushak Carpet With Medallion

hand knotted turkish rugs istanbul

16th Century Oushak Carpet With Medallion

Turkish Carpets in the Palace of Henry VIII

Turkish Carpet in Henry Tudors Palace

Tudor Carpets

Dolmabahce Palace Handmade Hereke Carpets

During the 1850s, Sultan Abdulmecid was about to move from Topkapı Palace to Dolmabahçe Palace, which he built in Bosphorus. He asked for best carpets to be made for the new palace. Therefore big-sized workshops were established in the town of Hereke.

Some of the closest woven carpets in the world were made for Dolmabahce Palace. This 160 years old carpets still decorate the halls and rooms of the palace. Hereke region became a sort of trademark for carpet industry and it is now known for its carpets.

Hereke Carpets in Istanbul

Turkish Handmade Rugs in Istanbul

Dolmabahce Palace Hereke Carpets

Turkish Carpets and Kilims Today

The heart of carpet industry today beat in the touristic cities like Istanbul, Izmir and Kayseri. Biggest carpet workshops and stores are located in Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Ephesus and Kusadasi in Izmir and Cappadocia region in Nevsehir and Kayseri.

Carpet weaving requires a great deal of meticulousness and patience and therefore it falls victim to fast consumerism of modern times and the number of people who can weave carpet is decreasing. The production is shifting to India and China due to cheaper workforce in those countries.

Today Hereke and Usak (Oushak) carpets are rare and expensive due to low production. Wool-made geometric motif Anatolian carpets are easier to find and therefore they are cheaper. To find the right carpet at the right price requires a special expertise.

Where to Find Authentic Turkish Rugs

In another article, I explained the answer to the question of Where to Buy Turkish Carpets in Istanbul. The most famous address to buy handmade Turkish carpets in Istanbul is the Sultanahmet area. However, it is difficult to decide which is the right shop.

You should decide which carpet store is the right place for you according to your expectations. Of course, you need to review the options before you can make this decision. The blog post that I share the link in the top line may help you about finding the right place to buy Authentic Turkish Rugs.

Written by Serhat Engul

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