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Antique Samarkand Rugs: The desert oasis of Khotan was an important stop on the Silk Road. The people of Khotan were expert carpet weavers who produced high quality antique rugs and carpets for both internal and the commercial trade. Samarkand carpets and reached the height of their popularity between the 17th Century and 19th century although archaeological evidence shows local people produced intricately woven textiles more than 1,000 years earlier.
During the height of Samarkand carpet production, the city of was part of a region designated as Chinese controlled East Turkestan. Today, the city of Khotan or Hotan is located in modern-day China in the region of Xinjiang or the New Frontier. Through the centuries, the Khotan has been controlled by many dynasties and imperial powers that have influenced local carpet design.
Geographically, Khotan is the southern-most of East Turkestan’s three distinct carpet producing regions, which also include Yarkand and Kashgar. The city of Khotan is located on the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau in fertile valleys between two important glacial rivers the Karakash River and the Yurungkash River, which are known for their deposits of black jade and white jade respectively.
Despite the natural land barriers of the snow-covered Kunlun Mountain range and the harsh Taklamakan desert, Khotan was an important stop on the Silk Road for thousands of years.
Antique Samarkand rugs have been influenced by invading superpowers, travelers, and traders passing through. The Huns were one of the first groups to control Khotan and East Turkestan before the Chinese Buddhists gained power in the year 200.
In the 8th Century, the Uyghurs, a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims, became the controlling power over most of East Asia from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Manchurian coast in the east.
Trade routes linking Khotan and the Kashmir region of Northern India were essential for transporting dye goods to carpet weavers in Khotan. At the time, Kashmiri dyers held a strong monopoly over the brilliant dyes produced by madder and indigo. Yellow, brown, and many natural or earth-tone colors were produced with locally available dye plants.
In urban carpet and rug studios, master weavers were responsible for purchasing materials and overseeing a team of trained workers. Carpet houses ranged from single rooms in a family home to entire buildings. The majority of Khotan rugs were made from wool pile knotted around a cotton warp.
The weft was typically made from wool, but cotton was also used. For each row of knotted pile, weavers generally added two or three shoots of weft, a trait commonly seen in carpets from Kazak regions.
Khotan rugs were traditionally produced using the asymmetric Persian carpet knot, which gives the pile the directional quality associated with carpets from the Far East. Although elements from Chinese and Tibetan rugs are evident in the medallion designs of Khotan, the colors, detailed patterns, execution, and production methods make them unlike carpets produced in the Far East.
Designs used in antique Samarkand rugs were borrowed from Turkey, Anatolia, Iran, India, and many other countries. Eastern designs like one, two and three-medallion motifs were used frequently in Khotan carpet designs.
Rugs featuring repeating gul motifs, all-over arabesques, and branching pomegranate and vase motifs were also popular. Many other motifs like diamonds, flowers, and curving oval elements were borrowed from Mughal carpet weavers to the south.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, weavers in East Turkestan and Khotan switched to synthetic dyes and many of their traditional carpet making techniques were lost. Despite the decline of the Khotan’s rug / carpet weaving industry, rugs produced in this ancient melting pot continue to be prized for their versatile styling and rarity.