A Complete Guide to Turkish Carpets

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A Complete Guide to Turkish Carpets
A Complete Guide to Turkish Carpets

Turkish carpets before the arrival of Turkish nomads to Anatolia

The Beginning of carpet and rug weaving is not exactly known when or where first started, there are sources indicating that it probably started in Central Asia. When the natives living in this region, which are called nomadic tribes or simply ”nomads”, migrated to the west of Asia as a result of a large population explosion and started to search for more suitable areas for them to live, the nomads were exposed to harsh weather conditions. For this reason, they started to use goat wool to set up their tents. Goat wool is much longer and firmer than sheep’s wool. The flat weaving technique was used for the first time in this sense to make nomadic tents.

Inside a Turkish Yurt Tent

Later, these nomadic people felt the need to protect themselves from the coldness of the soil under their tents. Therefore, they produced the floor coverings called “Carpets” using the same flat weaving technique. Since pagan beliefs reigned in this area where they lived, most of the flat weaving motifs reflected the depictions of a number of symbols that were important for them. After a while, the art of weaving developed and many items used in daily life were women into the carpets such as the saddlebag of horses or camels used in transportation.

Rugs always have been an important part of Turkish culture since nomadic times. Rugs, being placed in the center of nomadic tents, were an important part of everyday life. To understand the Turkish Carpet, we must first know the pre-Anatolian Turkish culture and the geographic and sociological reasons that led to the emergence of the carpet-making culture of Turkic nations. Turks are a nation that had a nomadic lifestyle. Turks originated from Central Asia. As a necessity of nomadic life, their economy was based on animal husbandry. Turks had very high wool production, especially thanks to the sheep and goats they raised on the steppes of Central Asia.

The origins of carpet weaving in Turkish culture

An amazing Turkish carpet used in a modern room

In addition, nomadic Turkish tribes had to carry their homes with themselves, as they were constantly traveling on horseback, looking for grazing, fertile land for herds. That’s why the early Turkic nomad people were specialized in tent-making techniques, weaving, and knot-making styles.

It is believed that nomads living in wool tents weaved carpets for the floors of their tents and were the first creators of carpet art. Over time, simple, solid color carpets have turned into more colorful and mixed patterned artworks. Turkish rugs, whether knotted or plain weave, are the most perfect known art form produced by the Turks.

Pazyryk Carpet and Gordes Knot

The oldest known carpet in history is the “Pazyryk Carpet” unearthed by the archaeologist Rudenko in the Pazyryk area of the Altai mountains. The Pazyryk Carpet, which was unearthed from the glaciers in the fifth kurgan, one of the eight kurgans opened in the region, is the oldest known carpet in the world. The Pazyryk Carpet, which attracts attention all over the world with its richness of motifs, incredible fineness, and weaving features, was first published in 1953 and aroused great interest.

Today, many scientists agree that the carpet found in the Pazyryk Kurgans (Burials) excavations in the Altai region of Siberia is the world’s oldest known carpet. This find was called the Pazyryk Carpet due to the area it was found in. Although there are debates about the origins of this carpet and the nations claiming the ownership of Pazyryk carpet, the Gordes knots technique used in the weaving of the carpet are the clearest evidence that the origins of the Pazyryk carpet are Turkish culture. Pazyryk carpets and other findings from burials are exhibited in the Saint Petersburg Hermitage Museum in the Russian Federation today.

The arrival of the Turkish carpets in Anatolia and the birth of the Anatolian carpet

Turkish carpets had been in use in Turkish culture long before the arrival of Turks into Anatolia and Turkish carpets made their way into Asia Minor before the Turkish people arrived here. Famous Chinese traveler Huan Tesank wrote that when he arrived in present-day Azerbaijan in the 7th century, he saw the world’s largest carpet looms.

Two Turkish Nomads on a Turkish Carpet in front of a Classic Turkish Yurt

In addition, the inhabitants of Anatolia before us have neighbored and traded with carpet weaving nations like the Sassanians for hundreds of years. The Byzantines and Turks lived together for about 400 years after the Turks entered Anatolia. Turkish carpet tradition has been blended with the ancient culture and patterns of Anatolia for more than a thousand years and brought out the world-famous Anatolian carpets. Turkish rugs are the most sold household items in the whole world.

Materials used in Anatolian or Turkish carpets

Wool Dyeing to Make a Handmade Turkish Carpet

In the production of handmade carpets, certain yarn types are used in Anatolia as well as in the other carpet weaving nations of the world. The most valuable and special carpets are made of silk. What makes silk carpets special is the fineness of the material and therefore the high number of knots in the weaving. They are considered to be the most durable carpets. Bursa city of modern Turkey has been the silk production center of Anatolia since the Ottoman period.

Silk Worm Cocoon

Wool is the second most popular yarn type used in carpet weaving. Wool carpets have been the oldest and most expressive parts of Turkish culture. “Lotto Carpets”, the copies of which are frequently encountered in the West, especially during the Renaissance, are the best-known examples of wool carpets. The origins of these rugs are thought to be hand-woven carpets sent by Ottoman rulers as gifts to western leaders.

Silk Production from Silk Worm Cocoons

The use of cotton in the entire carpet is a newer case. In old Turkish carpets, cotton was mostly used in fine embroidery and weaving looms to add strength to the carpet, as in wool Hereke carpets. Natural dyes were used in coloring Anatolian carpets. Parts of plants such as centaury, saffron, laurel, walnut, stems, branches, flowers, and fruits of many plants are used, and some insect species have been used in carpet dyeing. It has been determined that the Pazyryk carpet, known as the oldest carpet in the world, uses the red obtained from the shell of the Polish cochineal.

An Ottoman Carpet on a 17th Century Painting

Most common colors used on Turkish carpets

Navy Blue: Navy blue, which forms the ground color of the Turkish carpet, is the most commonly used color in Turkish carpets because the sky is blue. It is obtained from the root of the “rubex” plant found in Turkey.

Red: Red takes its color from henna, a symbol of fertility in history. The reason why women complain about henna is the expectation of fertility. The same expectation is reflected in the color of Turkish carpets. It is obtained from the herb “Sideritis Trojana Ehrend” found in Turkey.

Brown: Brown has taken its place in the Turkish carpet because all living things will come from the earth and return to the earth and also the living things get their nutrition from the earth. It is obtained by adding bush cones to the red water.

Black: It is the least used color on the carpet. Black is sadness. Older women use black more. It is obtained by boiling soft black rocks with herbs. Many nomadic clans do not use the color black at all.

White: Young girls use this color more often. The reason for their frequent use is the joy of the color white, their expectations from life, and their desire to express their longing to be a bride. Carpets with white floors are woven by the nomadic clans.

Most common motifs in Anatolian carpets

Today the geography where the artist lives and the raw materials which can be obtained by the artist shapes the crafts they create. Picasso, Rembrandt, or Van Gogh reached oil paints and brushes in the society where they were born and created the most famous works of the west. In this context, if we understand the raw materials such as wool, silk, and natural dyes of a Turkish nomad who was born in the steppe, the cultural and artistic value of a Turkish rug can be better understood.

Most common motifs in Anatolian carpets

Turkish civilization, which has an intercontinental history, has been blended with Byzantine, Armenian, Persian, Kurdish, and Arab cultures. Turks have been creating works of art with deep meanings and rich backgrounds. Perhaps the works where we see this cultural diversity at best are Anatolian carpets.

A Classic Ushak Carpet from Turkey

Turkish carpets and kilims have gone beyond merely commercial or artistic objects. Carpets sometimes became the way a young girl conveys her wishes to her family, or sometimes became a father’s lucky charm for a good harvest. Let’s have a look at some important motifs which can be seen on Turkish carpets.

Evil Eye Motifs on Turkish Carpets

Amulet or evil eye bead motifs were embroidered on Turkish carpets by many weavers to protect themselves from the evil eyes.

Eye Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The eye motif generally kept the other people’s jealousy away from abundance in the house. The eye motif is mostly located around fertility motifs.

Motifs Representing Female Dominance on Turkish Carpets

It is the symbol of femininity, maternity, and fertility. It is proof that mother goddess cults such as Cybele are still alive today.

Girl’s Headband Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The headband motif was woven by single girls to indicate their wishes for marriage, and married women to indicate that they wanted children.

Hand Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The hand is one of the oldest motifs which can be seen on Turkish carpets. It signifies God’s creation of humans and their constant protection.

Human Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The human motif usually describes the longing to have children or the lover abroad.

Ram Horn Motifs on Turkish Carpets

Ram horn is the symbol of masculinity and power. It is often used as a symbol of power on the borders and in the center of carpets.

River Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The meander or river motif, taken from the waterways around the nomadic Turks. Later Roman culture inherited this motif too. Meander represents fertility and rebirth.

Tree of life Motifs on Turkish Carpets

The tree of life is a motif from the pre-Islamic culture of the Turks, and it is still in use in the present day. This tree is the symbol of a life that is constantly growing and finally reaching heaven.

Tribal Symbols on Turkish Carpets

Throughout history, Turks have lived as tribes or, most fundamentally as families. With the Tamga or Stamp motif, the traces of the family have been engraved in the carpet. Tribal symbols greatly contribute to the value of the Turkish carpets.

Regions of Turkey famous for their unique carpets

Marco Polo, who traveled around Anatolia in the 13th century, commented on the beauty and artistic value of these carpets. A few other carpets from this period, known as Selçuk carpets, were discovered in many mosques in central Anatolia. Selcuk Rugs are exhibited today in museums in Konya and Istanbul. The thought that we could be looking at the same carpets that Marco Polo knitted in 1272 is quite exciting.

Old Map of the world showing the area between Anatolia and Central Asia

Pre-Ottoman Turkish carpet weaving generally produced carpets on which geometric motifs and depictions of nature were the main subjects. In the Ottoman period, Turkish carpet motifs began to change with the influence of the cultures of the new countries conquered. Especially the influence of Tabriz and Cairo cultures is evident on the carpets. During this period, European civilizations also discovered Turkish rugs and showed great interest in these handcrafted masterpieces. Renaissance painters such as Hans Holbein, Jean – Etienne Liotard also admired Turkish carpets and included these rare handwoven artworks in their paintings.

An Ushak carpet with a medallion design

Today, tourists visit my country both to see our masterpiece carpets in our palaces and museums and also to buy carpets from centers such as Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Antalya, and Ushak.

Today there are three crucial carpet weaving regions in Turkey which are West Anatolia, Central Anatolia, and Eastern Anatolia. Let’s have a brief introduction to the carpets of these regions and some useful facts about Turkish handmade carpets.

The best-known carpet types of Western Anatolia are Bergama, Hereke, Uşak, and Milas carpets. Especially the carpet factory named “Hereke Fabrika-i Humayunu”, founded by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1841, made Hereke carpets famous all over the world. Today, one of the most famous examples from 1860 is still in use in the Vermeil hall of the White House.

Bergama Carpet from 18th Century

Central Anatolia region and especially cities of Konya, Kayseri, Niğde, and Sivas are important carpet centers in Turkey. In 1292, the famous Italian traveler Marco Polo wrote in his travel book of Konya that Konya rugs are the most beautiful carpets in the world. Sivas carpets, on the other hand, differ from other Central Anatolian carpets with the fineness of their yarns and the abundance of colors used.

Eastern Anatolia is the most multicultural region of Turkey thanks to its proximity to Iran and the Caucasus. Motifs and colors of many nations can be seen intensely on the carpets of regions such as Kars, Erzurum, Diyarbakır, and Hakkari in Eastern Anatolia.

How to understand if a Carpet is Machine-made or Hand-Woven?

The easiest way to distinguish hand-woven carpet from machine-made carpet is by checking the knots on the back of the carpet. Handwoven carpets are made by tying knots in each loop of silk, wool, or cotton threads. However, the knots in the machine-made carpets are not found since the machine-made carpets are automatically woven by industrial machines. When you buy a handwoven rug, first look at the back of the carpet and examine the knots. If you see knotting marks like straight strip lines, that carpet is a machine carpet. But if the knots are visible in an asymmetrical way, that carpet means a hand-woven carpet.

Photo of Turkish loom and weavers from 1908

Another answer to your question of how to understand hand woven carpet is the method of distinguishing it based on the patterns on the carpet. If the carpet is woven by the machine, the patterns appear completely symmetrical and regular. Because the pattern introduced to the machine is automatically processed in a neat process. However, no matter how experienced the person weaving the carpet in hand-woven carpets is, there are definitely differences between the patterns. If you see that the patterns are not in full symmetry, but rather asymmetrical in between, you can be sure that it is a hand-woven carpet.

How to understand the quality of a handmade Turkish carpet?

Wherever you go and whatever you want to buy or whatever product you try, sellers will tell you that their product is the best quality. This is also the case when buying a carpet. So How to understand the quality of a handmade Turkish carpet? There are certain criteria that make handmade Turkish carpets high quality. When you find a carpet that includes all of these criteria, you can conclude that it is of good quality. So what are these criteria?

Surface Weight

The surface weights of handmade Turkish carpets are one of the first things most people check when choosing a carpet. The surface weight of the carpet can enable us to understand that the material used in weaving, therefore you will know will the carpet is long-lasting or not.

Carpet Density

The density of the knots on a Turkish handmade carpet is one of the biggest indicators of quality. We can say that the higher the knot density, the better the carpet is. Although these density rates vary according to the material of the carpet, you should prefer more tightly woven carpet types.

Which materials were used in the handmade carpet?

You can say that material used in making the Turkish handmade carpet is the biggest factor in the quality of the carpet. Different threads have different characteristic properties. Generally used yarn types in synthetic or machine-made carpets are mostly made of nylon or polyester. Silk, wool, and cotton threads are used in handmade carpets. These materials generally determine the characteristics and quality of the carpet

Warranty Certificate

One of the factors you should pay attention to when buying a carpet or trying to understand its quality is the warranty certificate. Or you should learn the return conditions. Remember that nobody guarantees a poor quality product. This is a simple method, but it is always effective.

Style of the Carpet

The style of the carpet can affect its performance. So when you buy a kitchen rug, it may not be healthy to think for the living room. Because carpets are generally designed for certain areas. Since many people will pass over the runners, it was designed in that style, and therefore it was named runner.

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Two Thousand-Year-Old Roman Loom Resembling Turkish Carpet Weaving Looms Remanufactured in Izmir (Ephesus)

Determining that the carpets and textile products of a Roman family were woven on the wooden loom, the archaeologists experimentally prepared a replica of the ancient loom using wood by hand.

Archaeologists took over the loom to make clothes similar to those used in the statues and to revive history. It is thought that different weaving threads are used for summer and winter clothes. It is known that weaving was a field of activity for women in ancient times.

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A modern kid room decorated with an oriental Turkish carpet

Turkish carpets are probably the most famous art pieces that my civilization ever created. In this article I named ”A Complete Guide to Turkish Carpets”, I tried to point out the most important facts about Turkish carpets but still, there is a lot more to discover. The best way of learning about this art is by visiting Turkey and seeing Anatolian carpets made by real Turkish people. Contact me to ask your questions about Turkish carpets and to hire a licensed professional tour guide in Turkey. See you soon, Hasan Gülday.


Rosamond E. Mack, Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600, Turkish Carpet Weaving by Dr. Sumiyo Okumura, Pazırık Findings, Motifs on Turkish Carpets, Interactions of Turkish and Iranian Carpets, The Turkish Cultural Foundation, Real Life at the White House: Two Hundred Years of Daily Life at America’s Most Famous Residence

Hasan Gülday

Hasan Gülday. Professional licensed tour guide working in Turkey.

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