Tag Archives: armenia

Pomegranate: Icon of the Silk Road

A pomegranate trinket on my desk

It was my ten-year-old daughter who first alerted me to the iconographic importance of the pomegranate. At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar she pointed out the myriad trinkets—ashtrays, paper weights, ampules, candles, vases, key chains, pendants—in the shape of pomegranates. (She really wanted a ceramic pomegranate for her window sill, and I obliged her.) I wondered why the pomegranate was so favoured by souvenir makers, whereas there was no trace of any object in the shape of, say, a pear or a raspberry.

I also recalled that last year, when I travelled to Armenia on behalf of Arastan, I had found that in this tiny country locked away in the Caucasus, the pomegranate is a much-loved, ubiquitous symbol that augurs fertility, abundance, and prosperity. It was everywhere, from friezes carved in medieval khachkars, to tabletop ornaments, to cheap fridge magnets sold at the airport.

Without trying very hard I began to notice the …

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In Love with Khachkars

Khachkar main

I’ve been in Armenia for just a few days, but already I am in love with khachkars. These elaborate stone crosses – both ancient and modern ones – are found all over Armenia. Next to the ever-present pomegranate, which appears in everything from cheap key chains to medieval friezes, the winged Armenian cross is perhaps the most ubiquitous and cherished symbol of this nation so rich in historical and religious symbolism. Its most characteristic manifestation is the khachkar – a large, monolithic stone sculpture that often decorates the interior or exterior of a monastery, marks a grave site, watches over a country road, or adorns a public square.

That a cross should serve as the primary signifier of Armenian culture is not surprising. Christianity is at the very core of Armenian national identity. In 301, King Tiridates III, who had previously persecuted Christians and imprisoned St Gregory the Illuminator for twelve years, finally …

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Caucasus Reconnaissance

Pomegranate seller in Quba

Remember me? Several months ago I wrote a short primer on carpet motifs on this blog. I was a complete novice in all matters woven back then, and the blog entry was as much an attempt to educate myself as it was a presentation on the topic. I did it because my old friend Nisha – never a stranger to pressing friends, family and sundry strangers into unpaid servitude – realised that I was living in Turkey and at a loose end, and quickly seized on the opportunity.

You’re in Turkey, she said, so inform yourself about carpet designs. Later she said, casually, you should find out more about Caucasian rugs in particular, because they are striking and unusual, and I want to add more of them to Arastan’s portfolio. And then, quite brazenly, the Caucasus is so much closer for you than for me, why don’t you do a short reconnaissance trip …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

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