Vintage Turkish Rugs – A Brief History

As an integral part of many cultures and societies, rug weaving has been a cherished craft for millennia. For one of the world’s most diverse, colorful and historically significant nations — Turkey, which has long been a cradle for numerous Asian roving tribes — the tradition was especially embraced.

Vintage Turkish rugs, or turkish carpets as they are commonly called, feature designs and hues that are as varied as the nation’s rich history. From evocative natural abrash gradations to fluid Safavid Persian-inspired arabesques and angular botanical motifs, these wool masterpieces are coveted for their ability to enrich and centralize any space.

The earliest Turkish rugs, dating back to the sixteenth century, favored prayer rug-style field shapes that evoked Mecca’s decorative pillars or the angular mihrab adorning many mosques. These early designs influenced later carpet weavers, who sought to refine their art while maintaining a sense of cultural heritage. As a result, these intricately rendered figurative and abstract patterns became cherished features of Turkish carpets, inspiring iconic paintings by European masters such as Memling, Lotto and Bellini.

After the Ottomans seized the reigns of Turkey, a new phase in Turkish rug production began. The region’s traditional rug making techniques merged with the innovations of the Seljuks and Timurid weavers to create a wildly prolific rug culture. Weavers now opted for the hali, or tufted, style that used Ghiordes knots to impart lushness and durability. The new tufted Turkish rug format was designed with an array of geometric, floral and animal motifs that reflected the regions of Turkey’s sprawling empire.

Today, the Turkish rug industry boasts multiple regional styles and weaves that range from the flat-woven kilim, characterized by a plain slit tapestry weave leaving a gap, or slit, between sections woven with different yarn colors; to the sumak, which uses weft wrapping for a sturdier, flat-woven carpet; to the cicim, which is a type of sumak incorporating extra brocade techniques. These regional styles include Kürtan rugs, whose blues and reds are the most vibrant in the Turkish carpet world; Ürduluk rugs, known for their dramatic multi-medallion compositions; and Bergama pieces, which display lustrous greens with clear, boldly rendered geometric designs.

In addition to their evocative palettes and distinctive designs, vintage Turkish rugs are notable for their quality of wool. As a result, they often endure in homes for generations and can be re-dyed, cleaned and professionally repaired when the time comes. Antique and vintage Turkish rugs are almost always one-of-a-kind, which makes them ideal for those seeking a unique statement piece that will be cherished for years to come.

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