Orient carpets, also referred to as oriental carpets/rugs, are carpets produced in Eastern (Oriental) Countries. They are generally made of animal-based natural fibers like wool, silk, and cotton. Orient carpets are hand woven and their production takes a long time.
Most known and valuable orient carpets are Turkish, Persian and Caucasian carpets. Although they have their own characteristics in terms of patterns, colors, and materials, they are influenced by each other as well.
History of Carpets
The oldest surviving carpet has been found in the frozen grave of a Scythian prince. Since the carpet is completely frozen in an ice mass, it has survived to the present day. The oldest pile carpet, known in the world is named as Pazyryk Carpet. It is made of wool, dated in the 5th-4th BC century and is located in Valley of Pazyryk.
This carpet was found by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in 1949 during an excavation on a Siberian mound. It is said that the origin of this carpet is based on the Turkic groups living in Siberia, the Scythians or the Persians. The world’s oldest carpet is on display at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The first carpet found is 183x200cm and has approximately 360,000 knots per square meter (Knot: tied nodes while weaving carpet). The rug density of the carpet, which has a magnificent structure, is higher than the carpets sold in many carpet stores today. The pattern is very rich and interesting; there are 24 cross-shaped figures in the middle; each of them has 4 stylized lotus flowers.
This composition is framed by griffins, followed by a boundary consist of 24 fallow deers. At the widest border there are pack horse and human figures and there is a ribbon motif in the middle. Although the bright reds, ultramarines, and greens of the carpet are now faded, it is understood that they were quite vivid at that time.
When it was first used in houses, the carpet was used for protection, covering the floor, covering walls and decoration. It was also often seen as a luxury item used by the upper classes.
Later in the 7th century, the precious wares of Christian saints were wrapped in expensive materials to be shipped from the Middle East. This was the period of the Merovingians, who had never neglected to bring gold-worthy fabrics and sacred relics when returning from the pilgrimage to Rome.
For this reason, since the Middle Ages, western artists had known Eastern motifs; these motifs are generally of Sasanian origin and have been enriched with a magnificent mix of Asia, early Christianity, Byzantine and Islamic cultures.
Information on carpets can be learned from written sources after the 13th century. It is known that in the 11th century during the Great Seljuk Empire, in an area extending from Central Asia to Iran there were plenty of carpet workshops.
After the Seljuks entered Anatolia, carpet production increased. The oldest carpets of this period can be found in Konya Alaattin Mosque. Another small group can be found in Beyşehir Eşrefoğlu Mosque. Geometric and stylized plant motifs were used in Seljuk carpets.
After the beginning of the 14th century, stylized animal motifs started to take place in Anatolian carpets. The earliest examples of this group of carpets used until the end of the 15th century are the Ming Carpet in the Berlin Museum and the Marby Carpet in the Marby Village of Sweden.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, along with animal motifs, stars and similar geometric motifs were used as well. These carpets, called Holbein Carpets, are named after Hans Holbein, one of the painters of that period.
Carpets in this group are divided into 4 sub-groups:
a) The carpet consisting of a geometric ornament is divided into squares and an octagon is placed in each square,
b) The geometric ornament was replaced with plant motifs. The division of the carpet is not different from the first. These carpets are called Lotto Rugs because they are seen in the paintings of Lorenzo Lotto.
c) The decorations in the carpets of this group resemble the first two groups. However, the carpet was divided into large squares and large octagons were placed inside them.
d) In this group, there is a large square and small squares are arranged around it.
Carpets made before 1920 are included in the antique category. However, when a definitive classification is required, antique carpets are often defined as traditional carpets without chemical dyes. They were built in the period between 1860-1870 before more chemical dyes were discovered.
Carpets produced from this period until the beginning of the 20th century can be called semi-antique or old carpets. Modern carpets are carpets produced in accordance with market demands from the West since the 1920s and 1930s.
On the other hand, carpets produced before the 19th century can be categorized as orient (or oriental carpets). The name “orient” is coming from the word “East”, as orient carpets mostly produced in Eastern Countries.
Features of Orient Carpets
Although it is not known exactly where the oriental carpets were first produced, they were thought to be made by the nomads in Central Asia centuries ago, not to lay down on the ground, but to isolate the tents from the sides and the top.
Carpet weaving along with orient carpets has been introduced to Europe for centuries, through armies, traders and immigrants from Asia and the Middle East.
In oriental carpets, floral patterns, commonly known as palmettes, are mostly seen in water lily (ie lotus flower grows in water) or peony flower forms. In areas where water is a valuable commodity, it is not surprising that flowers and fauna are the symbols of heaven.
The swastika design has traditionally been a symbol of good fortune until the time of Hitler, and this pattern can often be found in carpets from America, Europe, India, and China.
Oriental carpets are generally rich in symbolism. For example, large Persian rugs often present a small-scale plan of the universe (Paradise in the upper part, Earth in the lower part). The carpets also have an eight-leaf flower representing an X or Four Directions. Among other symbols, there is often a celestial gate that opens to Heaven, and this symbolizes the will of God which is a pure and intense cleansing of His servants.
It is thought that the patterns on the edges of some oriental carpets were made to protect the person sitting in it from magic, sorcery, and evils. These evils couldn’t enter the outer borders of the carpet.
Some common orient carpet motifs include a variety of medallions (dynasty traits and amulets), Boteh (paisley pattern from a Persian village), Herati (the fish in the lake), the tree of life (both Islam and a pre-Christian symbol that establishes the connection between this world and heaven), stars, animals, birds, plants, clouds and “shou and fu” symbolizing longevity and good luck.
As I mentioned above, the most important orient carpets are Turkish (Anatolian) Carpets, Persian Carpets and Caucasian Carpets.
Turkish (Anatolian) Carpets
Turkish carpets are knotted, pile woven (embossed surfaced) rugs and coverings produced on hand looms, which are based on the weaving tradition brought from the homeland of Turks who have migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia.
The development of Turkish Carpets continued after the Turkish conquest in Anatolia and therefore they are also known as Anatolian carpets. It is one of the most well-known and oldest handicrafts in the world with flat weaves.
All carpets woven in Anatolia are called Turkish carpets, but the classical Turkish carpets, which have become famous as “Turkish Carpets” in general, are carpets woven in the western parts of Anatolia and in the provinces of the Aegean Region.
Central Asian Carpets
Knotted carpets first appeared in the Central Asian steppes at very early periods. It is accepted that the Turkish tribes, which are the most typical groups of the steppe generation, play a major role in the production of carpets. Pazyryk Carpet which is the oldest known carpet of the world dating back to the 3rd-4th century BC is said to be a Turkish carpet and belong to the steppe region. It was attributed to the Asian Huns. This carpet was a work of mastery with a 36000 Gördes knot at 10 square centimeters.
The knotting technique was brought to the West from Central Asia and recognized in the Islamic world when the Abbasid dynasty ruling the Islamic State established the city of Samarra for Turkish guards. Some examples that were considered to have remained during the Abbasid period and woven in Samarra or brought to Samarra were found in the excavations. These examples are displayed at the Cairo Museum, the Gothenburg Röhss Museum in Sweden and the National Museum of Stockholm.
Orient Carpets of the Great Seljuk Dynasty
In the 11th and 12th centuries, Turkish carpets spread to the west along with Seljuk Turks extending their territory from Iran to Mesopotamia and Syria. Although the carpet centers and much praised Seljuk carpets are frequently mentioned in ancient sources, there are no examples of Turkish carpets found during the Great Seljuk period. This situation is explained by the disappearance of the carpets, rugs and textile products of the Great Seljuks during the Mongol invasion.
However, the carpet depictions seen in the 13th-15th-century miniatures are considered to be the original carpet samples of the 12th-14th century and are considered to be the most important source for recognizing the Seljuk carpets today.
These depictions indicate that the carpet weaving in the Seljuks was a very important art branch, a tradition of settled and improved knotted carpets is evident, and Seljuk carpet art is a solid foundation for the subsequent art of carpeting through continuous developments.
Some of the miniatures of the 13th-century poet Hariri’s “Makamat”, displayed in the Suleymaniye Library of Istanbul and the Bibliotheque Nationale Museum in Paris are important examples of Seljuk carpets.
Anatolian Seljuks’ Carpets
After the conquest of Anatolia by the Turks, Turkish carpet art continued its development in Anatolia. The Anatolian Seljuks reigned in Anatolia, and cities such as Konya, Kayseri, and Sivas became the center of the carpet production and trade. Turkish carpets spread to non-Muslim regions as well. In the 13th century, workshop carpet manufacturing was developed and large carpets were produced.
Orient Carpets in the Principalities Period
The carpets produced during this period are called “Principalities Period Carpets”. They are also known as “Animal Figured Anatolian Carpets” because they are usually decorated with animal figures. The famous examples are: “Horozlu Halı” which is currently in the Konya Ethnography Museum, “the Marby Carpet” which is in a church in Marby, Sweden, and “the Ming Carpet” which is in a church in Central Italy.
Anatolian rugs have become a symbol of prestige for European aristocrats in the 14th century, even though they have been sold to Western countries since the 13th century. Italy, the ruler of the maritime trade, was the first carpet distribution and transit center.
In this period, Anatolian carpets began to be seen in the paintings of European painters as they have seen in the miniatures of Eastern European painters. In the paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries, European painters often depicted carpets with animal figures.
Orient Carpets of Ottoman Era
During the early Ottoman Era, 14th and 15th centuries, the principles of Seljuk carpet art have been complied with in terms of technique and motif. Examples of early Ottoman carpets are often depicted in European painters’ paintings. Beginning in 1451, the Turkish carpets were first seen in the paintings of the Italian painters. Then they were depicted in the paintings of Dutch and German painters until the end of the 16th century.
The carpets of this period were known as “Holbein carpets” from the name of the German painter Hans Holbein. Towards the end of the 15th century, the paintings of animal figured carpets disappeared from the paintings of European painters and have been replaced with geometric patterned carpets.
In the 16th century, Turkish carpets reached their golden age. A lot of carpets were woven to meet the needs of palaces and mosques, and traces of Ottoman architectural art can be seen on these carpets. Two types of carpets were woven in this period named as palace carpets and Ushak carpets.
The palace carpets are woven by artisans in the Ottoman palace. These carpets were woven with the Iranian knot called “sine”, which is different from the Anatolian carpets. In the colors and designs of the palace carpets, initially Iranian influences prevailed, and in the course of time, it gained a character unique to Anatolia. Natural patterns such as tulip, hyacinth, carnation, and pomegranate flowers are the main theme of Ottoman art.
The second type of carpet woven in the classical Ottoman era is Ushak carpets. In order to be used in Ottoman palace and to be presented as a gift to foreign countries, these carpets were woven in Manisa and Uşak cities and the carpet models drawn by the artists of the palace were sent to Uşak and produced here for the palace. Ushak carpets were shipped to Europe via the İzmir port. That is why most Europeans know these carpets as İzmir Carpets.
Ushak carpets are divided into two groups as Medallion (sofra) Ushak Carpets and Star Ushak Carpets. The medallion scheme of the Tabriz carpets entered the Turkish carpet culture after the Turkish conquest of Tabriz in 1514. The Star Ushak Carpets have a star-shaped small core (sofra) with eight arms and the star-like shapes below and above this core.
In the 17th century, a new group of carpets called “Ushak Carpets with white/fur texture” appeared. Also in the 17th century, the carpets, which were woven in the vicinity of Uşak and exported to Transylvania (in the Ottoman period, to Hungary and to Romania), were recognized as Transylvanian (or Erdel) carpets. These carpets are now found in Hungarian museums.
In the 17th century, when Ushak carpets started to lose their fame, Gördes, Kula, Bergama and Milas Carpets in West Anatolia and Konya-Ladik, Kırşehir and Mucur Carpets in Central Anatolia Region became famous. The carpets woven in these regions were exported to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and contributed greatly to the Ottoman economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the first half of the 19th century, the British established trade houses in Anatolia to involve in the carpet trade. By the middle of the 1880s, Western Anatolian commercial carpets entered the monopoly of the six largest tradesmen. Patterns prepared according to European tastes were woven and exported as İzmir Carpets.
The carpets have been woven with wool material until the end of the 19th century, but cotton yarn started to being used after that. Vegetable dyes were also replaced by the synthetic dyes in course of time.
In the 19th century, carpet production was made in the factories which were established to meet the various needs of the palace and its surroundings. During the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, carpets were produced at the Feshane factory by bringing fabric makers from Kayseri, Sivas, and Gördes to Istanbul in order to meet the large-scale carpet needs of the newly constructed palaces.
In “Hereke Fabrika-i Humayun”, the carpet production continued for the palace’s needs until the end of the Ottoman Empire. The carpets woven in this factory won the title of the world’s best quality hand-woven carpet at various international fairs. In the additional buildings of the Dolmabahçe Palace, there was a weaving mill known as Hereke Dokumahanesi which continued production until the last days of Sultan Vahdettin.
Today, carpet weaving is the most common handicraft in Iran. Persian (Iranian) carpets are world famous with their rich colors, extraordinary artistic patterns, and high-quality designs. Persian carpets, which are used in important buildings, museums, and mansions around the world, are considered the most valued property. Since the 16th century, Persian carpets woven manually are world famous.
In fact, the majority and the best are the Turkish carpets woven by the Turkic peoples in Iran (such as Azeri, Turkmen, and Kashgai). But the knot style is different from the carpets woven in Turkey. Persian knot or Iranian knot is weaker in terms of quality and durability compared with the Gördes knot or Turkish knot.
Colors of Persian Carpets
Pazyryk, the oldest known wool carpet, is proof of the advanced dye and weaving industry in ancient Iran. The Persian carpet is a carpet that carries Persian patterns and motifs predominantly.
In carpet production, the dye has an important place in the weaving industry. Traditional dyes are produced from various plants and herbs such as madder, indigo, turmeric, kumiss beetle, walnut, pomegranate peel and so on. Nowadays, traditional natural dyes are gradually replaced by artificial chemical dyes which are generally imported.
Dyes Used in Persian Carpets
All dyes were natural and vegetative before the use of synthetic dyes. Chemical compounds extracted from coal have also expanded the chemical dye production industry. Most carpet manufacturers today prefer to use chemical dyes because they are cheaper and easier to use. However, most Persian producers still prefer natural dyes due to they are free from side effects and more suitable for health.
The existence of colors in human life is the result of integration with nature. However, oriental colors reflect a kind of reflex to external factors/tensions while expressing people’s feelings. In certain ages, Persians used colors as a powerful expression in decorative arts. Undoubtedly, the subjective and mystical ideas of the Persians contributed greatly to the development of the use of colors in traditional ceramics, miniatures, and tile arts.
Persian Carpet Types
Carpet production in Iran starts with the Seljuk Turks. There are no old examples of Iranian carpets, but only in the miniatures of 14th and 15th century, first carpets have started to be seen. Persian carpets began to gain characteristics after the 16th century. The golden era began after this.
In this period, carpets mostly were made for the palace. With the establishment of good trade organizations during the 19th century, Iran has become the first carpet exporting country in the world carpet trade.
Persian carpet art reached its peak during the Safavids in the 16th century. The fact that the first concrete evidence of this art belongs to this period also confirms this information. Approximately 1500 samples from this period are kept in museums and private collections around the world. During the reign of Shah Abbas, progress was made in trade and art.
Shah Abbas developed trade by supporting relations with Europe and at the same time transformed the capital Esfahan into a magnificent city. Apart from these, he established a royal workshop for carpets, which encouraged skilled craftsmen and designers to create magnificent examples.
The majority of the carpets woven at that time were made using silk. Many experts believe that these carpets represent the highest level of carpet design of all times. Shah Abbas also developed the use of gold and silver yarn in carpets.
One of the carpets produced by this method and used in the coronation ceremony is currently preserved in the Rosenburg Castle in Copenhagen. This special piece has a velvety surface and a shining bottom. Certainly, these carpets are woven only exclusively for royal members and, nobles, and are strictly protected as much as any gold treasure.
There are 4 main types of Persian Carpets named as Keşan Carpets, Isfahan Carpets, Kirman Carpets, and Herat Carpets.
Keşan is located in Central Iran. This is one of the most beautiful and precious carpets of Iran. It is shiny and soft like velvet, finely woven, and it has 10-14 knots per centimeter.
They are usually made of dark colors. The main feature of the carpets woven here is that they are silk carpets. Silk was used for the knots as well. There are also gold and silver glazes in these knots. Gold and silver glazes were also used in Isfahan carpets. The main composition in Keşan carpets is medallions. These medallions were designed in order to determine the middle of the ground as in the Tabriz rugs.
In the 17th century, the Iranian Shahinshah Shah Abbasid has woven various carpets in Isfahan, the center of Iran. This was also possible by the efforts of the workshops established by Abbas I. However, this period did not last much, it ended in a short time after the death of Shah Abbas.
Isfahan carpets, which have a certain view and composition due to their technical pattern and composition properties, take place in an eclectic style. For this, Isfahan carpets are difficult to group. Since they are made by various masters, they also show various regional features.
Kirman is a carpet center in the south-east of Iran. Since only lamb wool is used in Kirman Carpets, they are long, pileous, durable, soft and very tight. The pattern is mixed and completely belongs to the Persian and Oriental type.
Although they are often made of wool, sometimes cotton was used as well. Their borders are very narrow. Therefore, when the two carpets are placed next to each other, the figures seem to complete each other.
They are long and narrow. Their yawn is thin. The wool used is soft. The touch is soft and their texture is bright. Palm, fish or pear-shaped figures constitute the majority. The color of the floor is generally red or dark blue.
The Place and Importance of Persian Carpets in the World
The legendary Persian carpet has gained a more prominent reputation than the national and ethnic industries of other countries in the world, and even this fame has circulated from language to language in the eastern world known as the continent where the myths were born.
The Persian Carpets which are considered as the most important decorative element of the international museums in the history of mankind, as well as the greatest source of pride, are the works of the great Iranian masters. These artifacts which are created with great effort, will continue to be the source of pride for the Iranian nation in the future.
Most of the annual carpet production is provided by carpets with a maximum of 35 knots per cm2 and is met with intensive demand both at home and abroad. The establishment of good trade organizations since the beginning of the 19th century has made Iran the first carpet exporting country in the world carpet trade. Iranian carpet weaving continues today. The world follows and evaluates Persian carpets.
Caucasian carpet is a thin carpet type. It is produced in a much shorter time than other carpets and it costs much cheaper. In ancient Turkish, it means “prayer rug”. Dagestan, Shirvan, Kazakhstan and Kuba weavings are among the leading examples of Caucasian carpets.
The mountainous land between the Hazer Sea and the eastern part of the Black Sea is the region where the Caucasian carpets are woven in various periods. Compared to Persian Carpets, curved branches, flowers, and animal motifs entered into a more angular shape, and the color compositions were used in different sizes. Caucasian carpets are generally in large size, mostly having long lengths.
The dragon carpets that emerged after the 16th century are among the Caucasian carpets. They constitute a striking carpet group with striking colors, majestic long – stylized leaf motifs and dragon motifs that have been going on since the Scythians. They have usually a red floor but sometimes very dark blue or dark brown was used too. All the dragon carpets are woven with wool knots on wooly weft and warp and Gördes (Turkish) knot was used in all of them.
Therefore, carpets woven with the Gördes knot are generally more coarse, but more durable than the Persian carpets. They also consist mostly of geometric patterns. Perhaps due to this conditioning, from the 13th century Seljuk carpets, it was possible to see the geometric stylizations that fit even today’s modern concept in Caucasian carpets.
In addition, the effect of Persian carpets is also seen in the Caucasus region. The influence of Caucasian Turks is noticed in Eastern Anatolian carpets rather than Western Anatolian ones.