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History of Nomadic Kilims & Carpets

Women from the Mut tribe weaving.

History of Carpet & Kilim Weaving

No one knows precisely when and where the technique of weaving first started, There is no doubt that the weaving, in general, started in Central Asia. Nomadic tribes used flatweave techniques to make their tents to protect themselves from the elements. In addition, they started to use kilims, flatweave carpets, to cover their earthen floors. As nomadic tribes started to spread across western Asia, they spread their weaving techniques to the people they met. Over a period of time, the art of weaving improved and many useful items started to be made, such as saddle bags, camel bags, and cradles. Pile carpets probably appeared later in imitation of animal pelts, by adding pile to the basic flatweave kilims. The oldest surviving pile carpets were discovered in a grave of a Syncthian prince in the Pazyryk valley of the Altai mountains in Siberia by the Russian archaeologist, Rudenko in 1947. This carpet, carbon dated to the 5th century BC, was woven with the Turkish double knot. It shows great sophistication, showing that there was already a long history of pile carpet weaving by this time.

Chatal Hoyuk, an 8000-year old town

History of Turkey

The history of Turkey is astoundingly long, with human occupation dating back to the late Paleolithic period around 10,500 B.C., at the site of Karain Cave. Agriculture was established around 7000 B.C. and by approximately 6500 B.C., the Neolithic period, a village was established at the site of Çatal Höyük in Central Anatolia with energetic wall paintings, figurines and early pottery. The Chalcolithic period followed, at sites such as Hacılar around 5000 B.C., with beautiful pottery and copper artifacts. By the Early Bronze Age (2600-1900 B.C.), Anatolian cities started to develop at sites such as Kültepe.

In the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 B.C.), the Hittites moved into Anatolia from the area east of the Black Sea and established a sophisticated civilization with graceful pottery, ironwork, and gold. The Hittite Empire was later weakened by cities along the Aegean coast, including Troy. Eventually, they were destroyed around 1100 B.C. by a massive invasion of the mysterious ‘sea peoples,’ and the vacuum was filled by smaller Greek-related states such as the Phrygians, Urartians, and Lydians.

In 560 B.C., Croesus, the leader of Lydia brought all of the Greek colonies under his control, but was soon overthrown by Cyrus of Persia in 546 B.C. However, the Greek cities continued their efforts to overthrow the power of Persia for the next two hundred years, resulting in numerous battles.

This finally settled with the conquest by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. Small kingdoms were built, which lasted almost two hundred years, until the Roman conquest. By 129 B.C., the Romans established the province of Asia with its capital at Ephesus. It was during this peaceful Roman period, when the concept of an universal Christian church was developed in Antioch (modern Antakya) and St. Paul and his disciples traveled throughout the Roman Empire.

By around A.D. 250, the Roman Empire had weakened. In the mid-sixth century, as the western Roman Empire was falling apart, Emperor Justinian was able to bring the eastern capital, Byzantine Empire, to its greatest strength reconquering Italy, the Balkans, Anatolia, Egypt, and North Africa. However, his successors were not strong enough to maintain the Byzantine Empire. One of the forces was the birth of Islam in A.D. 612 and the development of the Muslim Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties which continually challenged the power and status of the Byzantine Empire. In addition, the Great Seljuk Turkish Empire from Persia started to challenge the already weakened Byzantine Empire by the early 11th century and became the dominant power in Anatolia. However, the Seljuk power quickly declined and another nomadic group, the Ottoman Turks began to expand into Anatolia. For a time, the Mongols took over much of Anatolia, defeating the Ottomans, but in 1453 the Ottomans captured Constantinople (modern Istanbul), forming the Ottoman Empire, dominating a wide geographic area covering southeastern Europe, parts of southwestern Russia, northern Africa, and the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire flourished until 1923 when Kemal Atatürk established the Turkish Republic, as the Ottoman Empire grew weaker due to repeated wars and emergence of nationalist movements in the Balkans.

Turkish Carpets

Turkish carpets are among the most sought after household items all over the world since Marco Polo commented on their beauty and artistry in the 13th century. Their rich colors, warm tones, and extraordinary patterns with traditional motifs have contributed to the status that Turkish carpets have maintained since the 13th century. A number of carpets from this period, known as the Seljuk carpets, were discovered in several mosques in central Anatolia, underneath many layers of subsequently placed carpets. The Seljuk carpets are today in the museums in Konya and Istanbul. It is very exciting to imagine that we may be looking at the very same carpets that Marco Polo praised in the year 1272.

Mosques are considered the common house in a Muslim community. In addition, since the praying ritual requires to kneel and touch the ground with one’s forehead, the mosques are covered from wall to wall with several layers of carpets contributed by the faithful as an act of piety.

The art of weaving was introduced to Anatolia by the Seljuks toward the end of the 11th and the beginning of 12th centuries when Seljuk sovereignty was at its strongest. In addition to numerous carpet fragments, many of which are yet to be documented, there are 18 carpet and fragments which are known to be of Seljuk origin. The technical aspects and vast variety of designs used proves the resourcefulness and the splendor of Seljuk rug weaving. The oldest surviving Seljuk carpets are dated from the 13th to 14th centuries. Eight of these carpets were discovered in the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya (capital of Anatolian Seljuks) in 1905 by Loytred, a member of German consulate staff, and were woven at some time between the years 1220 and 1250 at the pinnacle of Seljuks reign.

Of these 8 striking rugs, 3 are large complete rugs; 3 are large fragments from small rugs, and 2 are fairly small fragments originating from large rugs. Three more carpet fragments from the Seljuk period were discovered in 1930 in the Esrefoglu Mosque in Beysehir. Today, these rugs are displayed in the Mevlana Museum in Konya and the Kier collection in London. A third group of carpet remnants were recovered in Fostad (old Cairo) in 1935-1936. These 7 rugs from Fostad were identified as having originated in Anatolia in the 14th century, the most common design characteristic of the 18 rugs before mentioned are the Kufic border, the eight pointed star, and the hooked (geometric) motif. The Turkish rug, which originated in Central Asia, preserved all of its characteristics until the 14th century. After the Ottomans gained control over the whole Anatolia, changes began to appearing the composition of the field, in the characteristics of the motifs, and in the sizes of the still traditionally woven Turkish rugs.

During the Ottoman reign, several Turkish tribes decided to settle down and built a number of villages and small towns. Notably, the village of Hereke was settled on the edge of Marmara Sea some 60 kilometers east of Istanbul. The first court carpet workshop was established in Hereke and began to weave carpets of unusually large sizes to be used in decorating Ottoman palaces. These exceptionally fine rugs were also used to tie and retie relationships with European countries in time of war and peace and so they were given as gifts to kings and queens, as well as to key army commanders and statesmen. Towards the end of the 14th century, these rugs which were the finest examples of the eye and hand harmony, began to enter European homes, churches and castles through intermediaries such as merchants Florence and Genoa.

In the 19th century, additional court workshops were opened in Istanbul in the districts of Kumkapi, Topkapi and Uskudar. And in 1891, Sultan Abdullhamid II increased the number and sizes of the carpet workshops in Hereke, and thus, the exquisite carpets woven in Hereke became more plentiful. Throughout their development- from Central Asia to the Caucasus region to the Anatolian plains, steppes, and costal areas, and through the Seljuk and Ottoman eras Anatolian rugs have maintained the purity and characteristics of their origin. Turkish court rugs were originally influenced by sources brought under Turkish control, but which were modified Turkish standards and requirements. Thus, Turkish rugs reached their deserved place in Europe. Rugs from Hereke, Usak, Bergama, etc. became well known and kind increasing in demands continuing to increase with time. Anatolian rugs are unbelievably rich in design, color and symbols. Today, these fine rugs are woven in more than 750 villages and tribal (nomadic) areas. Each of these rugs differs from each other by their particular design, symbolism, and relative size; these characteristics are passed on from mother to daughter, and thus for centuries they have kept the same designs, symbols, and beautiful shades of colors

During the 14th and 16th centuries, Turkish rug designs appeared prominently in many European artists' paintings, with the rugs so depicted being of Anatolian origin. These paintings were subsequently named for the respective artists, for example, Holbein, Lotto, Memling, Van Eyck, etc. In the beginning of the 16th century, every European prince owned a private carpet collection. (Herman Haack, Echte Teppich- Eastern Rugs). In Vienna, the people were allowed to own rugs after 1671.

When the Turks left Vienna, many Turkish rugs were left behind in their tents. This allowed fine Turkish carpets to become known by the European populace. A short time thereafter, the kings and queens of Europe began to open their castles and palaces, as well as their residences, to visitation by their subjects. This in turn, spurred European interest and thereby dramatically increased the demand for hand-knotted Turkish carpets.

Semi-old Sofra Kilim
Carpet ID: HYA801

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