Turkish Rugs Throughout History

Turkish Rugs History And Cultural Significance

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Turkish Rugs – The history of Turkish rugs and weavings is as complex as it is ancient. The production of fine rugs and carpets is a practice that dates back millennia. In certain societies and cultures across the world, rug weaving is of particular importance.

It is regarded as an art form of the highest order, as well a quintessentially significant cultural practice. This is especially true in Turkey, which has been one of the most important rug producing countries for centuries. With a complex history that involves warring dynasties, invading forces and contentious relations with its neighbors, Turkey is one of the most unique countries.

The modern day nation state of Turkey spans two continents. This is the result of the wide-reaching empires that have governed Asia Minor and the southeast of Europe from capitals which were located in modern Turkey and Persia.

Standing at the crossroads of the great civilizations of the east and west, Turkey has long acted as a natural go-between for European traders seeking to trade in exotic goods, as well as Persian traders seeking to do business with those in the west.

As the demand for fine rugs and carpets has waxed and waned over the centuries, so has the craft of artisanal rug weaving. It adopted new styles and patterns and introducing new rug weaving techniques as well.

More so than anything else, rug production in Turkey has been a flexible and dynamic enterprise, resulting in a corpus of material that is always exciting. The clear and uncontested historical record of Turkish rug production dates back the at least the thirteenth century, during the reign of the Seljuks.

Ivory Background Decorative Antique Turkish Oushak Rug by Nazmiyal
Ivory Background Decorative Antique Turkish Oushak Rug

During this period, some of the earliest antique rugs that still survive were woven. Sophisticated compositions, these rugs are indicative of a weaving culture that was not only already mature, but deeply rich and refined.

The Seljuk style is generally characterized by repeating, allover patterns. They often feature stacked medallions and small compartmentalized areas that were occasionally decorated with floral detail elements. These unique carpets offer great insight into a distant point in time. By the fourteenth century, however, the power of the Seljuks had vanished.

During this time, portions of eastern Asia Minor, in modern day Turkey, were governed by the extensive Timurid Dynasty. The Timurid Dynasty claimed an expanse of land that spanned from eastern Turkey to western China, an area that comprises several large, independent nations today.

Antique Turkish Rug by Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Rug

During this period, the production of Turkish rugs changed significantly. The Timurid era saw the birth of the central medallion pattern, which would go on to become one of the defining styles of Oriental rugs. Similar advances were made at this time, as the Timurids took a special interest in the craft of carpet production.

Like the Seljuks before them, the Timurids were not destined to govern Turkey for long. Soon, an insurgent group of Turks would take seize of the country and established the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans quite literally seized the reigns of Turkey. They would go on to govern one of the largest contiguous land empires that the world has ever seen. By the end of the fourteenth century, the Ottomans governed their massive empire from Istanbul.

From there they oversaw one of the most radical transformations of Turkish culture. Regarding the Turkish rug production, the Ottomans were the heirs to the advances of the Seljuks and the Timurids. Each of whom, had left a distinctive mark on the ancient practice of rug weaving.

Naturally, the popular central medallion rug format that had been pioneered by the weavers of the Timurid period remained a favorite. Other popular styles were maintained, but altered.

Most early Ottoman rugs are referred to by their patterns. These include the Memling Gul pattern and the so-called “Small Pattern Holbein,” which is named after the European painter who depicted such rugs in his portraits of European nobility.

Turkish Rugs by Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Rugs

Another important development during the Ottoman era was the introduction of animal designs in carpets. These fascinating Turkish rugs feature medallions decorated with animal motifs and designs.

The early Ottoman period also saw the introduction of the Crivelli Star and Ghirlandaio styles. Those styles also played on the popular central medallion format. All of these advances elevated the already vaulted craft, and the internal demand for such carpets rose sharply.

Perhaps the most important developments in the weaving of Turkish rugs occurred in the important historical weaving center of Oushak. The ancient Turkish city of Oushak had already been producing rugs for centuries.

The Oushak rugs were widely celebrated and acknowledged to be among the very best of all Oriental carpets. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Ottomans oversaw a series of important changed in the weaving of Oushak rugs.

During this time, we witness the emergence of star-shaped and circular medallions. Further, elaborate arabesques and complex vine scrolls soon became common in the finest Turkish Oushak carpets.

These rugs featured intricately detailed fields flowing over with winding detail elements soon coming heavily into vogue. At this time, the Safavid rulers of Persia were also overseeing aesthetic changes in their carpet production, and the ornate and intricate carpets that were coming out of Tabriz and Kashan had an important influence of the style of Turkish rugs that were being woven.

Further important developments occurred during the reign of the Ottoman Empire which stretched into the late seventeenth century. At this time, niched prayer rugs began to be produced and shortly thereafter we see the emergence of the double niched prayer design rugs.

These important productions were exceptionally important, especially to the Islamic cultures that were the foundation of the Ottoman’s empire. Many practicing Muslim would utilize such pieces during their daily prayers.

Antique Angora Turkish Rug by Nazmiyal
Antique Angora Turkish Rug

The Turkish rugs that were manufactured throughout western Turkey also began to come into their own during this time. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the West was caught up in a tremendous Oriental revival.

It is during this time that the Turkish rugs were considered to be especially fashionable. Even the rustic tribal carpets woven in traditional rug weaving villages proved popular with Western consumers, who admired such pieces for their cultural verisimilitude.

Over the centuries, Turkish rugs have developed both as the result of internal sociopolitical changes as well as the influences and demands of the Western world. A storied craft with one of the richest bodies of material in the world, the art of Turkish rug weaving is an important facet of our shared history.

The rich and fascinating world of Turkish rugs offers insight into the culture and traditions of a region, and it also offers insight into the nature of our humanity.

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