The Carpets of Konya

Come, Come, Whoever you Are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Mevlana Rumi, Sufi Mystic and Poet whose tomb lies in Konya

And they did come … at the turn of the last millennium, travellers, traders, nomads, empires, swept into Iran and Anatolia from Central Asia and beyond.

Konya is one place they met and traded and settled right from the 11th century through to the 16th century.  The Seljuk Empire that dominated a huge swath of Eurasia during those centuries created a cultural melting pot that extended from Turkey to China. It was out of that melting pot, fuelled by continual exchange of commodities and ideas along the Silk Roads, that Konya, Bergama and other well known cities came into prominence and most of what we know today as Anatolian carpets emerged.

“The best and handsomest carpets in the world are wrought here”, observed Marco Polo about the area around Konya. Ibn Battuta, another great traveller through the Islamic world, visited the region in the 1330s (about 60 years after Marco Polo). In his travel accounts, he too talks of Anatolian carpets being exported to all the Turkic-ruled places of the day. That included Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, and parts of India and China.

What’s so special about Anatolian carpets?

Of course, being en route the ancient silk roads was a major contributor to the commercialisation and spread of the Anatolian carpet. But what gave these carpets their particular distinction was the eclectic fusion of geographies and cultures it came to represent.

Kilim Runner from Van

Kilim Runner from Van

Scholars have found the Seljuk rugs from Konya to be knotted in the same “Turkish – Ghiordes knot” as carpet fragments found in tombs of the Altai mountains in Southern Siberia. (Read about the world’s oldest carpet, the “Pazyryk“, now housed at the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.)

It appears the pile carpet and its older sibling, the flatweave kilim, travelled many thousand kilometres, over many thousand years, with their nomadic inventors – the tribes of Central Asia. During the great Seljuk era, these nomads followed their flock to settle in the Anatolian plateau, bringing with them their rich and varied weaving styles; each emblematic of a Yörük or nomadic identity. Over the decades, these tribal weaves merged with regional artistic traditions to create an amazing variety of novel patterns and design innovations that give carpets from this region a fascinating complexity.

The visual evolution of the Anatolian carpet is itself a lesson in history. The 11th century Seljuk carpet is identified by its geometric and stylised floriated motifs, seen as repeating rows, with borders bearing Kufic inscriptions. By the beginning of the 14th century, animal figures began to make their appearance. By the 16th century, the expanding Ottoman Empire and the influences of Iranian and Mamluk Art is noticed, especially through the medallion motif and diverse foliate compositions.

While carpet production in Anatolia today continues to be a lucrative, global business, the carpet itself has not lost its stature in the homes and traditions of the Anatolian family. A young woman still collects the best in the village for her dowry. Some are donated to the mosque in commemoration of loved ones who’ve passed on. And the remaining go to local markets, and onto to Istanbul, before finding their pride of place in New York or London, Venice or Singapore, Berlin and now, Bangalore. For Arastan, Nisha travelled to Turkey and hand picked varying sizes and patterns to reflect the stunning diversity of Anatolian weaves. Arastan offers a select collection of antique rugs and plenty of newly hand woven masterpieces to adorn living spaces as throws, floor cover or even, wall art. Check out what’s in store and take a piece of Anatolia home this festive season!

Happy Holidays!

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