Monday, March 11, 2013



While locum, the sweet jelly-textured confection may be officially known as Turkish Delight, it is the bold pulsating patterns of the Turkish carpet that truly dazzles and delights the shopper in Turkey.  While reflecting the culture of its people, the attractive colors and designs of the Turkish carpet also convey artistic messages to people of other countries.


The official name for the Turkish carpet is the Anatolian carpet (from Anatolia—one of the main carpet-producing regions in Turkey), as opposed to the Persian, Caucasian, and Afghan carpets.  Besides the traditional hand-knotted carpets, using methods developed for over 2000 years, there are the lightweight kilims (woven on a loom like tapestry), cicims (hand-embroidered carpets, and rugs made out of Angora goat hair.

Families, tribes, and even whole villages work together as a unit and share the knowledge of their skills and expertise.  Their methods and raw materials produce carpets that reflect the region in which they are woven and the anonymous artists of the region closely guard their secret techniques and designs. No picture taking and no visitors are allowed in these Turkish inner sanctums. 

The making of knotted carpets (used by locals not only as floor coverings but as tent screens, paintings, wall hangings, prayer rugs, sofa and cradle covers) was introduced by nomadic Turkish tribes and craftsmen.  The hard-wearing double-knot techniques, known as the Turkish or Gordes knot is what sets these carpets aside from the Persian or Senneh (single) knot techniques used in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, and China.


Knotted carpets are woven on a loom consisting of horizontal bars on which the warp and weft threads are stretched.  Onto these threads the pile knots are tied according to a pattern.  The Turkish (Gordes) knot is wrapped around two warps and the Persian (Senneh) knot around a single warp.  Once the pile knots are tied according to the pattern, they are pressed together with a comb-like kirkit. Then the thread ends, which make up the pile, are clipped off with a regulated scissors, giving a velvet-like surface.

Knotting is an extremely difficult job. The carpet weaver must have thin, agile fingers and eagle eyes.  That is why the weavers are usually girls between the ages of 12 and 18.

The Gordes knot makes the carpet stronger, firmer, and more durable while the Senneh knot allows the weaving of more varied patterns.  However, once a carpet is made, it is difficult to determine the knotting system. 


The quality of the carpet is increased as the number of tight knots per square centimeter increases.  Some woolen rugs have about 30 knots to a square centimeter, while a silk rug can have as many as 200 knots per square centimeter.

The colors used to dye the threads for the carpets, are characteristic of the region where the carpet is made.  Although chemical dyes are used today, many villages still use the natural vegetable dyes.  Some of these villages have their own boyalik (grazing land) on which plants, used for producing dyes, are grown.

Formulas for producing dyes have been passed down from generation to generation allowing the traditional colors of Turkish carpets to survive.  The dominant color of red expresses wealth, joy, and happiness.  Green is symbolic of heaven; blue of nobility; yellow keeps evil away, and black symbolizes purification from worries.

The material used in a Turkish carpet may be wool, pure silk, floss silk, or cotton, with sheep’s wool being the most commonly used.  Cotton is used in the weaving of a base (warp and weft) for the carpet and then wool is knotted on to this to form a pile.  Carpets made with cotton and wool are as hardwearing and attractive as other carpets.


Floss silk, which is a silk byproduct, is used only in carpets manufactured in the Kayseri region.  Floss silk makes up the pile knots of the carpet’s base system.  It is as strong as other materials and is also easily dyed, making a wide range of colors possible.

Pure silk carpets, from cocoon silk produced in the vicinity of Bursa, are works of art.  The pure silk carpets from the region of Hereke are considered matchless.  Those from Kayseri follow closely behind.

Hereke is a small charming town approximately 40-miles from Istanbul.  Situated at the foot of an historic medieval castle, Hereke was chosen by the Ottoman sultans as a center of silk production in 1840.  In time, production of hand-made silk carpets has spread to villages in the vicinity of Hereke.

Today, classical Hereke carpets, with their motifs of flowers, birds, deer, and mihraps (praying niches), are made in a number of regions with the pure silk of Bursa.  However, only the genuine Herekes have the inscription “Hereke” woven into one of the corners.


The joy, sorrow, patience and skill, of the craftsman are reflected in a properly made Hereke. Since the production of a silk carpet with a high double-knot density compels the dimensions to be limited, large Hereke carpets are quite rare.  Sizes typically range from that of a small painting to those of a prayer rug.

When purchasing a Turkish carpet, it is a good idea to keep in mind the old shopping ethic: caveat emptor (buyer beware).  And, although bargaining is de rigueur in Turkey, always remember that you can’t beat a man at his own game. 

The three tips that I can offer you are: Absolutely adore what you are going to purchase; don’t think you can “steal” it from the dealer; and, deal with a trustworthy merchant.  As for the latter, aye there’s the rub.  How does one find such a person in a country known for shrewd businessmen who know they will never see you again?


First, you must go with your gut and with the with the company’s reputation.  Do you know anyone who bought from them?  Were they satisfied after their carpet was appraised at home?  Do they have representation in another country or in America?  If you are on a cruise ship, inquire among the staff to see if they have any recommendations and always pay for your purchase with a credit card.

And, one final tip.  Once you take your purchase home, and the bill is paid, forget about what kind of deal you got.  Just enjoy your carpet and the memories of the trip that it rekindles. 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.

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