Until Persian rugs were exported in the 17th century, Turkish weavings were the only Oriental floor coverings known to Europe and thus the terms "Turkey carpets" and "Oriental carpets" were virtually interchangeable. Turkey's rug-weaving industry dates back to the llth century and was developed successively by the Seljuk (llth - 13th centuries) and Ottoman (c. 1300 -1922) dynasties and by the modem Turkish republic. The Oriental rugs currently being produced in Turkey have the historic character of their antique counterparts in patterns and colors geared to today's decorative tastes.

As in Iran, rug weaving in Turkey is an intrinsic part of its culture and is practiced in villages throughout the country. A substantial portion of the production is destined for domestic and local tourist consumption rather than for export. Thus, much of the demand for these weavings — including pile rugs and flat weaves, saddle and grain bags, and silk pieces — comes from collectors and consumers looking for something that is both different and distinctive. Indeed, it is often said that Turkey's appeal emanates from its carpets' tribal, primitive character.

Of special interest today is the renaissance of traditional weaving techniques, namely that of using vegetable dyes and handspun wool (produced from both domestic and imported wool) in areas around Izmir, Canakkale, Konya, Kayseri, Oushak, Hercke, Diyarbakir, Malatya, Kars, and Erzurum. Originally initiated in 1982 by the government-administered project DOBAG (Natural Dye Research and Development Project), the resurgence of this weaving art has spread throughout Turkey, making it a major producer of Oriental carpets whose wool is both handspun and vegetable-dyed.

This ancient, time-consuming, and delicate process of using vegetable dyes, as compared to chemical dyes, imparts the wool with a very unique patina. For instance, the darker reds and blues have a very characteristic vibrancy and the light hues exude a complex transparency. Among the plants used to extract dyes are madder and indigo.


Equally important has been the recreation of authentic old Ottoman patterns as well as those from other countries and regions including Iran, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, East Turkestan, and Transylvania. These adapted patterns, though not originating from the villages or areas where they are woven, are nonetheless integrated into the Turkish weavers' design library thereby bestowing a charm and uniqueness of their own. The designs — generally intricate interplays of geometric and curvilinear floral motifs — are woven in an array of colors ranging from full-bodied reds, blues, teals, greens, and greys, to the lighter peach and ivory tones. Carving and incising is done to highlight designs in many of the pile rugs.

Among the popular carpet types available today are all-wool Basmakcis that feature geometric patterns inspired by Caucasian and traditional Turkish designs. Burdurs are also popular and are characterized by the angular Persian Heriz design woven in both traditional and contemporary colorations. Hereke rugs, renowned both in their wool and silk varieties, have repeating intertwining floral elements often incorporating the mihrab or prayer niche.

The last decade has witnessed the growing popularity of kilims mainly featuring a broad range of geometric patterns characteristic of Anatolia (a generic term referring to the high plains of Central Turkey). They are also available in the Karabagh variety and bear more Western-looking stylized floral motifs reminiscent of Bessarabians. Although produced throughout Turkey, most of the kilims produced originate from the Oushak and Denizli areas.

The organized production of Oriental carpets in Turkey is one of the most exciting developments in the industry. Indeed, the renaissance in the use of vegetable dyes and handspun wool, and the creative renderings of designs both native and foreign has inspired the production of carpets bearing a unique, handcrafted character, some of which are destined to be the "antiques of tomorrow."


IRAN (Persia)

Known as the original home of the Oriental carpet, Iran (Persia) the oldest and once the most powerful empire in the Middle East, stood at the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilizations. Under the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), Iran attained its artistic height, and court weaving, together with the art of calligraphy, miniature painting, and tilework, flourished to exceptional heights. This brilliant era witnessed the development of highly qualified carpet factories in cities including Kerman, Isfahan, Kashan, Tabriz, and Herat (now a part of Afghanistan). Iran is the genesis of most motifs, patterns, and traditional colorations produced in rugs throughout the world today. Over the centuries, Persian carpets have become treasured heirlooms passed on from one generation to the next.

By the mid-19th century, American, British, and German firms had established new carpet production facilities in Meshed, Tabriz, Kerman, and Sultanabad (now Arak), thus ensuring the art form's continued development. And in the 20th century, under Shah Reza Pahlavi, royal factories were established to utilize only the finest materials and methods of manufacture.

Oriental rugs have always been and are still an intrinsic part of Iranian culture and its people's daily lives. Indeed, Oriental rugs are in many cases their most valued possession and are an integral part of their home furnishings. Thus, it is not surprising that current production levels throughout Iran equal if not surpass those reached prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In fact, rugs are now even produced in areas where weaving was heretofore not practiced. Furthermore, Persian carpets continue to boast very high quality standards and command a very brisk interest in domestic and international markets. While large city workshops were an important factor in the past, much of today's production is fashioned along cottage industry lines in smaller villages and towns.


Persian carpets are traditionally known for their tremendous variety in design, color, size, and weave, and for the uniqueness of each and every rug produced. Rugs are generally named after the village, town, or district where they are woven or collected, or by the weaving tribe in the case of nomadic pieces. Each rug's particular pattern, palette, and weave are uniquely linked with the indigenous culture, and weaving techniques are specific to an identifiable geographic area or nomadic tribe. Such is the case, for instance, of the richly colored Bakhtiari rugs — frequently characterized by ellipse-shaped medallions with floral patterns—woven by the Bakhtiari nomads and villagers of southern Iran.

Generally smaller in size, Persian nomadic, village, and flat-woven rugs (e.g., kilims) are broadly characterized by traditional angular designs and bold as well as somber colors. Typical is the south Persian Qashqai, often finely woven and featuring a diamond-shaped medallion on a detailed background of geometric or stylized flowers. Predominant colors include reddish browns and blues. Other nomadic and village types include the Bakhtiari, Ramadan, Shiraz, Kurd, and Karaja.

Meanwhile, the more sophisticated carpets originating from the historic cities of Tabriz, Kashan, Kerman, Nain, and Qum feature finely woven floral patterns and complex curvilinear motifs. More elaborate pieces are often pictorial in design and depict hunting scenes, men in combat, landscapes, and historic folklore figures.

Persian carpets offer a full gamut of colorations from the pastel shades of champagne, rose, and green, typical of a Kerman for instance, to the striking reds and blues of a Heriz. This highly popular pattern is characterized by a bold and angular medallion and corner design. Just as with design, Persian color ways are a continued source of inspiration for other rug-producing countries throughout the world.


The popularity of the Persian carpet, both antique and new, continues unabated. Indeed, Persian rugs shall forever be prized for their unique, individual quality. Each carpet is the product of a centuries-old cultural heritage particular to its originating village, district, or tribe. This splendid weaving tradition continues to be the chief source of inspiration for other countries of origin, including India, Pakistan, China, and Rumania.




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