Turkish Rugs

By James M Keshishian


Konya, Collection of Harold Keshishian


Formal, tribal, stylized, colorful, religious, multi fibered, loosely woven, or impossibly fine-that is the Turkish carpet.  

East of the Caspian Sea and west of the Aral Sea in an area called Western Turkestan exist once predominately nomadic tribesmen called the Turkmens. These self-same people migrated, conquered, assimilated almost all in their path. These were the Seljuk Turks. They went forward and southwest. They embraced Islam and like a hot sword went on and engulfed almost all of Asia Minor.

The Crusaders kept parts of Asia Minor open as they constantly tried to free the Holy City of Jerusalem. In the Caucasian Mountains and in some other mountainous enclaves to the west, the Armenian kingdom made up of baronies managed to exist and stay autonomous.

The rest of Asia Minor and then the Balkans became part of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. The Greek city Iconium became Konya, the center of the Ottoman Culture. Scholars, architects, craftsmen from Armenia, Persia and other areas came here. Persian weavers brought the influence of some designs that were to be seen in future products of weaving.

Soon another tribe of Turkmens led by Osman migrated because of Genghis Khan's presence in their Turkestan. They too went to Asia Minor and eventually became the rulers. It became known as the Osman Ii or Ottoman Empire. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered. A small area in Europe at the straits of the Dardanelles and Asia Minor is all that remains of an empire that was to extend far and wide. Arabia, the Balkans, Syria, Mesopotamia, Lebanon and Palestine were all part of the empire.

This brief history of the Turks as we know them, coupled with their strong religious tenets, shows a strength that was manifested in the carpets they made.

Let us first be concerned with the nomadic rugs. These originally functional rugs served as protection against the cold, as floor covers, pillow covers, saddle bags, salt bags" horse covers, prayer rugs, tent pieces and other utilitarian goods. These woven items are made to this very day but mostly as the floor covering rug. These rugs range from crude small pieces to rugs that fill entire large mosques; from crudely woven prayer rugs to unbelievably fine presentation pieces and from locally utilized items to contracted rugs to be sent to every corner of the traveled world. I

The Turkish knot, as previously described, is simple, secure sand lasting. Wool has always been the principal fiber but in recent times cotton, linen, silk and even rayon are found in Turkish .rugs.

Let us refer to our map and the listing of rugs by area and name.

ANATOLIA. This is an area generally known as the central plateau and goes to the southeast

Tarsus Mountain area. (Remember Saul of Tarsus") On the map it stretches from Ankara to the area near Adana. Though this is a broad area, the small villages and nomads have produced similar weavings. The techniques are primitive, the looms are either vertical (upright) or horizontal (on the ground).

KIRSHEHIR and MUDJUR are two villages with rugs bearing the same names. Here wefind a source of a great many rugs. Loosely woven, wide borders, reds, blues, oranges,natural ivory colors and geometrical designs are their characteristics. The Mudjur is usualy.1 a prayer rug; (at least that is all the writer has seen or read about.) The Kershehir most commonly seen are, in faded reds, oranges and blues. When they are new, they are un pleasingly garish.


Two more names attributed to Anatolia are the YAHYALI and the YURUK. Just a few miles north of Adana are the somewhat settled weavers of the Yahyali rug. This rug is usually twice as long as it is wide (Kelleyi) 3 x 6 feet, 4 x 8 feet. Its colors are deep greens, red browns, oranges, ivory. It is bulky, heavy but never large and its design is double niched.

The Yuruk rug is really the nomad, shepherd or mountaineer's rug. Wherever he abodes, he weaves. His summers are spent in the mountains and winters closer to warm Mediterranean breezes. The wool is long and silky and the strong geometric designs are in colors of violet-blue, orange, yellow, green and dark blue.

The list of Turkish rugs continues. BERGAMA from the ancient Greek city of Pergamum. These rugs are usually geometric, small 3 x 4 to 5 x 6, with a flat apron at the fringe ends, wefted 2, 3 or 4 in red wool, soft, lustrous, all wool, reminiscent of the Kazak of the Caucasian, much prized by the collector, famous in paintings (e.g. "Holbein" rug).

Two rugs from different parts of Turkey are quite similar, the PANDERMA and the KAYSERI. Panderma is at the Sea of Marmara between Chanaklah and Hereke. Kayseri is in the center of the Anatolian plateau due north of Adana. Kayseri (from Caesarea) with little originality but stylized Persian design rugs, or actual copies, the binding is usually cotton, figure eight. The rugs are generally small sizes but some large sizes have been seen recently. The wool is coarse and close clipped. ThePanderma is tightly constructed like the Kayseri but the designs are borrowed also like the Kayseri. The rugs are aged by washing and scrubbing with stones, even grey-toned wools and cottons are used; all this for the aged look. Moral? If you don't know your rug, know your dealer; and if you don't know your dealer, know your weaver. The designs are more often Ghiordes and Kula- designed prayer rugs.

IZMIR (Smyrna from the Greek) - was traditionally a place to order rugs from all over Turkey and a place of manufacture. Today wools of Kula are made into reproductions of old Turkish and Caucasian designs up to 10 x 14 feet in size. The English Company known as O. C. M. set up looms at the beginning of the century and rugs known as Isparta were actually made there.


USHAK -basically two types. The first, the large gallery palace-sized "star" and "medallion" rugs sought after by museums,

specialists and wealthy collectors. Here the Ottoman Manufactories produced rugs up to the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The recent wares from Ushak are coarse, large stylized Persian designs whose colors soon become soft and muted and are prized by the decorator and style-conscious buyer.

GHIORDES (from Greek Gordian), famous continuously for their prayer rugs with their angled mihrab (prayer niche) open field, small size (4 x 6 feet approximately), wide bordered, tightly woven, usually wool but sometimes found with cotton in the warp, all or part silk. The five-color Kis-ghiordes is the dowry rug made by the maiden in anticipation of the marriage. (See photo.)

 KULA, <near Ghiordes and also a prayer rug-weaving village much as Ghiordes. The border is usually multi-striped (eight or more stripes) often in stylized carnations, foliates, tile-like small squares. The ground under the prayer arch is not always an open field. It may contain stylized flowers in vertical rows, a vase with flowers or an encroaching line or two of flowers on the edge of the field.

The word NAMAZ is prayer; namazlik is prayerable, hence, prayer rug. From Kula comes another rug called the mazariik and this is a "graveyard rug" used at the time of burial. Here in the field is the repeating vertical pattern of a small house (mausoleum) flanked by a cypress tree and a weeping willow. Curiously the colors are usually "happy."

 The MELAS rug, usually prayer, is made at the southeast coast of Asia Minor and even on an island offshore (Ada-Melas). Here yellow is used with red and white (the red generally fading to a rust orange). The wide borders create a narrow field. The niche is sometimes pinched in diagonally one-third of the way down to give a doorway effect. The brown dyes are often corrosive and wear away leaving an easily felt indentation. There is also the Melas-Karaova which is made southeast of Melas and enjoys the same colors but usually employs a continuous stepped and winding stem that has a cocks comb attachment on the stem as it makes its 90 curves.

Nearby is MAKRI, another coastal city of Greek origin, and it too is famous for small prayer rugs. (Turkish name: Fethiye) This rug usually has strong reds and blues with a long narrow niche with a lamp and a row of flowers, or a tree from a base or vase. This rug has often' two niches side by side with two different ground colors. Goat hair is sometimes used and as in the Melas the weft threads are dyed red.

The HEREKE carpet takes us to the vicinity of Constantinople/ Istanbul. Here manufactories have made some of the finest Turkish rugs to be found. While they have no uniqueness of design, incorporating Persian, Ghiordes or even Eastern Turkestan designs, they are well made, desirable and comparatively expensive. The Kum-Kapu woven of wool and silk and with gold and silver threads is most famous. In times of strong national feeling the word Hereke is written into one corner (upper left) but in times of commercial expansion, the Roman letters are used.

The LADIK is a popular, distinctively designed and bountifully colored rug. The prayer variety is known for its long-stemmed tulips which are usually placed in opposition to the prayer niche and at the base or 'top of the field. Reds, dark and light blues, olive-yellow, pale greens and browns are most often used.

We come to the last rug in this Turkish rug section. This rug is the SIVAS. This town is (or was) a city of master weavers. The author has several in his collection. A town once a center of commerce, activity and religious Armenians has lost most of its Armenians to the brutality of the late Ottoman Empire. Its rugs were silky, extremely fine and seemed to be the equal of the best Persian rugs, even employing some of their designs. Marco Polo went thru Sivas in then Thirteenth Century. It is plain that on this east-west trail there was much to see, many peoples, many tribes and many textiles. The Turkish carpet started as a Turcoman textile,needed and prized by the owner. With time,

migration, conquest, new materials and refinement it became an item of export to be used, collected and prized by others. •






Copyright 1983-2010 James Mark Keshishian Trust, Mark S Keshishian Mark Keshishian and Sons Inc.. All rights reserved.
No part of this article can be reprinted with out permission.