Carpets, kilims and other types of hand
made rugs are among the masterpieces of traditional Anatolian art,
reflecting the culture and tastes of centuries. The pastoral nomadic
communities of Central Asia obtained most of their basic needs from herding
and hunting, and their dwellings were tents woven from wool and hair. Their
furnishings too consisted of rugs and other hand woven articles decorated
with various motifs. The Central Asian tradition of carpet and kilim weaving
going back to 2400 BC was introduced by Turkish migrants to Anatolia, where
it encountered an ancient tradition of spinning and weaving fabrics going
back even earlier than that of Egypt. Archaeologists have found traces of
looms dating back to 3000 BC and fragments of textiles going back to 6000
BC. The ancient peoples of Anatolia spread rush matting on the floors, and
wove baskets, hammocks, and fabrics of linen, hair and wool. They hung
leather and dyed woven cloths on their walls. Motifs of magical and
religious significance decorated these textiles.
Spinning, knitting and weaving were seen as sacred tasks carried out by
women, and their products were valued items of trade from Mesopotamia in the
east to the Greek colonies in the west. Muslim tribes of Turkish origin are
known to have first entered Anatolia via Thrace in the 8th century, and
another wave of migration via Iran and Iraq occurred in the 11th century.
From Central Asia and the countries through which the Turks made their way
eastwards, these new arrivals brought with them a culture influenced by
Chinese Tao and Buddhist and Persian Manichaean and Zoroastrian thought.
Long after settling in Anatolian cities, traces of these ancient influences
survived in the carpets which they wove. Cappadocia in the heart of Anatolia
has throughout history been a junction of human movement to west and east.
Conquest, trade and migration created a mosaic of cultures here, each
exerting its own influence and being influenced in its turn. It is here that
Karum and other Assyrian trading colonies, the most ancient of their kind in
the world, were located, in the provinces of Kayseri and Nigde.
have been woven for centuries in the towns of Maden, Kemerhisar, Adurmusun
and Fertek in Nigde. Their designs are primarily symmetric, but even when
asymmetric, a balance is maintained between filled and empty areas. The idea
of unity of opposites is the source of harmony in their compositions. Woven
for the most part by women, the motifs of these carpets symbolise concepts
like fertility, health, sin, death, rebirth, the evil eye, and infinity. The
first Turkish settlers in this region were followers of mystic Islamic
movements such as the Kalender, Melami, Bektasi and Ahi, which exalted human
existence. The influence of their own and other cultures gave rise to the
unique repertoire of motifs of the region. The most widespread of these
motifs are eyes, stars, trees of life, scorpions, talismans, streams,
burdock, birds and ram's horns. The eye motif guards against evil and
jealousy, and is a symbol of abundance and fertility. The star symbolises
happiness, and the tree symbolises life.
19th century prayer rug woven in Fertek has tree of life motifs in the form
of stylised tulips along the upper edge. Birds depicted in a tree symbolise
the soul, and also symbolise sacred beings who lift the souls of the dead to
heaven. The scorpion symbolises heroism, and is also believed to lend
protection to the carpet. The talisman motif protects both carpet and weaver
from evil and misfortune, and imparts strength and courage. The stream motif
represents abundance, cleanliness and purity, while burdock represents birth
and fertility. Ram's horns are again symbols of abundance and fertility.
Some of the carpets woven in the district of Maden have compositions
inspired by woodwork in the central field, and are known as cupboard carpets
for this reason. In the borders they have 'hand on waist' (elibelinde) and
ram's horn motifs, both symbolising fertility, and star motifs.
These motifs and their hidden and sometimes magical meanings can be traced
back to various sources: the Hittite cult of the Mother Goddess Cybele, who
was widely worshipped by other peoples of Anatolia over the millenia,
geometric Islamic decoration, the simple lines of Mesopotamian and Ionian
art, Central Asian shamanism, and mandalic symbolism. Last year, with the
support of the Ayhan Sahenk Foundation, the province of Nigde launched a
project for reviving traditional carpet compositions in Nigde and
Cappadocia. The first carpets woven under the auspices of the project were
shown at a recent exhibition illustrating the powerful beauty of these local
Utku TongucTopal is a photographer, Sklylife 06