For centuries carpets have represented the pinnacle of Turkish craftsmanship for their rich materials and exquisite designs. Made using fine wools and silks, the best examples showcase traditional methods that date back to the 13th century, perpetuating Turkey’s rich artistic heritage with every hand-tied knot.
Today, Turkish carpets are adorned with lavish designs and yet the art of carpet weaving is thought to have humble origins. The ancestral Turkic peoples lived in nomadic tribes scattered across Central Asia; they developed a way to knot goats’ hair into tents, in order to protect themselves from severe weather conditions, and also made floor coverings. The ‘double knot’ technique they engineered, also known as the Ghiordes knot, remains instrumental in the production of Turkey’s modern-day carpets.
The tribes’ subsequent migration to Anatolia brought these skills to the Seljuk Turkish state, and later to the Ottoman Empire, when a greater sophistication prevailed and intricate pieces were made for patrons of the Ottoman court. Flat-woven ‘kilims’ – or throws – were also desirable and were used to cover couches and cushions in the palaces. Nowadays Istanbul carpet sellers aim to provide carpets and kilims with a similar palatial prestige for the contemporary consumer.
In the depths of the Grand Bazaar – Istanbul’s largest traditional indoor marketplace – shoppers will find one of the city’s most respected carpet sellers, Şişko Osman. Renowned throughout the market for his joviality and rotund stature (the nickname Şişko means ‘fat’ in Turkish), he sources carpets from far and wide. ‘I visit tribes and villages all over Turkey,’ he says. ‘It’s important to travel because you never know when or where you will find a quality rug or kilim.’
The carpets he acquires have been made by young women from the rural communities of Turkey, where weaving forms an integral part of everyday life. ‘Girls help their mothers weave a carpet from a very young age,’ Osman explains. ‘With experience the girl takes over, finishing the design after some years.’
Traditionally, these carpets provided a dowry when the girl reached marriageable age, but they are now often used for commercial gain, allowing the women financial independence. The distinctive designs that reach Osman’s store can be traced to the Turkish region it came from, as well as the girl who spent years creating it.
Premium carpets can also be found outside the Grand Bazaar. Family-run label Has Halı dates back to 1896 and has showrooms in Fulya and on Bağdat Caddesi. Has Halı’s carpets have gained an international reputation for their classic aesthetic and have adorned the floors of locations as prestigious as the Çankaya mansion, home of the Turkish president.
Ahmet Hasoğlu, the fifth generation owner of the brand, is keen to promote Turkish history through his carpets and works closely with Istanbul’s museums and palaces to replicate key patterns from the Ottoman era. ‘If a carpet does not carry the cultural values of its origin, it will not be an antique piece but just an old carpet,’ he says. ‘The elegance of our past is honoured in our collections.’
Has Halı also honours ancient production techniques and as a result its manufacturing process is particularly arduous. The majority of the brand’s carpets are made from sheep’s wool sourced from Turkey’s highest plateaus. The wool is transported to the historic town of Uşak to be washed in natural mineral pools. The material is coloured with natural vegetable dyes in primitive boilers and is then loom-woven by women in local towns. This long procedure of time-honoured craftsmanship ensures supreme quality and durability in every carpet.
For award-winning label Çınar Halı tradition is also imperative. Its owners, brothers Hasan and Mehmet Çınar, descend from a long line of carpet weavers, stretching back to the Seljuk Turks. However the company also prides itself on moving with the times. Pieces from its Wild Nature collection marry traditional materials with modern patterns and animal prints, to appeal directly to the 21st century shopper.
Çınar Halı’s innovations extend to record-breaking designs. As well as being the first to produce a rug threaded with gold, the brand has manufactured the world’s largest double-knotted silk carpet. Currently residing in Çınar Halı’s Istanbul store in Nuruosmaniye, the 102-square-metre carpet took 18 highly specialised weavers four years to complete and contains 64 million hand-tied knots; an entire wall of the workshop had to be demolished in order to transport it outdoors. The impressive feat serves as testament to Çınar Halı’s attention to detail, a trait that can be found in all the brand’s creations, regardless of their size.
Understanding the great care and mastery that goes into producing Turkish carpets makes their worth clear; whichever design chosen, Istanbul’s carpets and kilims allow travellers to transform their living spaces and to take home a meaningful slice of Turkish culture.