Inspiration

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Our brand new look at Ghorbany Benmore showcasing "The Floating Carpets", a modern twist on the flying carpet legend, together with our Tablo Gallery and "Back to Roots" modern wool art display,  by award winning designer Colette Angelucci from Colette Living.

At Ghorbany Carpets we are always looking for ways to use different forms of art in our showrooms to complement our carpet collections and we often find them in history. Collaborating with modern day designers to bring new life to our showrooms and carpets allow us to bring together "old" and "new" and to pay homage to the designers that came centuries before us. 


Saluki - The Persian Greyhound

We are all too familiar with the very distinguished and highly prized Persian cat. Even though the Persians have very little to do with this modern day esteemed breed of cat, the name lends to it the grandeur that the Persians are known for. They do nothing in half measures!

How interesting then to find the Saluki or “Persian Greyhound”. The origin of the name is unknown but they were bred in the Fertile Crescent and hunt by sight, running their prey down to kill or retrieve and they were exclusively used by the Bedouins. They are depicted in Iranian art from the 12th Century in poetry, miniature paintings, metal work and even rock reliefs, such as those at  “Savashi Canyon Relief, carved around 1800, that was commissioned by Shar Fath-Ali Shah Qajar to commemorate his hunting exploits”. Thanks to Silk Road trade they even made their way to China with some Imperial Paintings depicting the Saluki. There are many examples of the European paintings showing Salukis that are believed to have arrived in Europe through the hands of returning Crusaders. The King of Bahrain up to the last century owned a pack of pure-bred Salukis and after his death, the “pure-bred lines of the royal kennel were saved by the efforts of Dana Al Khalifa who was given two pure-bred puppies by the King, and about a decade later had pure-bred Salukis registered with the Kennel Club of Bahrain. Today, the breed is still held in high regard throughout the Middle East and are hunting dogs for nobles and rulers around the region. They are considered clean by the Bedouins, and are allowed to be in women's quarters, while other dogs must be kept outside.”

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Faradonbeh

A beautiful antique Faradonbeh, circa 1910, exclusively available at Ghorbany Carpets. Measuring 223x158, this carpet was woven in the Armenian Bakhtiari region of Iran and is a classic example of abstract art flowing into Persian carpet designs in the early years of the 20th Century. Contact Shervin Ghorbany for more information on 0824548533.


Of Spindles and Knots

Spinning and weaving no doubt played a very important role in the Ancient world right up to the time that machinery replaced the hand spun and woven methods. There is hardly a civilization that does not have a mother goddess that taught weaving to the female humans and these goddesses are often depicted with spindles and distaffs. There are countless stories of how the universe was woven or our fates are interwoven and there are many tales containing life lessons through the methodology of spinning and weaving. To the Ancients actual physical spinning and weaving were synonymous with spiritual life.

In later times it kept its' importance. ”The term distaff is used as an adjective to describe the matrilineal branch of a family (e.g., the "distaff side" of a person's family refers to the person's mother and her blood relatives). This term developed in the English-speaking communities where a distaff spinning tool was used often to symbolize domestic life”. In Medieval times Adam was depicted in art as digging and toiling the land whilst Eve is shown holding a spindle and distaff after being exiled from the Garden of Eden, indicating the importance of spinning and weaving as very ancient and necessary to the survival of humankind. Fertility, midwifery and the virtues of women were also always connected to the spindle, distaff and later spinning wheel. The spinners and weavers and even wool dyers were often regarded as having magical powers, indicating just how powerful the role of these (mostly) women were.

For the Celts weaving and spinning were as important. So much so that they adapted a Roman design to form their very own Celtic Knot. The Celts, like many other cultures, view the Tree of Life as a sacred part of our existence with the roots representing our subconscious, hidden selves and the trunk connecting it to the branches that represents our conscious and revealed selves. ”Celtic knots are referred to as endless knots due to the fact that they do not have an end or a beginning. The endless knots represent the eternalness of nature. Tree of Life knots symbolize the branches and roots of the tree which are woven together to show the continuity of the cycle of life. The Celtic Tree of Life knot is associated with positive energy, making it a widely used design for tattoos and other art.“ Through the Celts this particular knot spread throughout the Christian world in all forms of art, especially illustrations in the Bible and other literature.

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The Kurdish Tribe

Some speculate that the Kurds have been around since the time of Urartu from the 9th Century BC, known then as the Corduene/Carduchi. The Sumerian tablets called them the “People of Su in the land of Karda and also the Carduchi. They were not necessarily a military tribe but they were not welcoming to those who tread across their land, as mentioned in Greek sources: ”seven days spent in traversing the country of the Carduchians had been one long continuous battle, which had cost them more suffering than the whole of their troubles at the hands of the king [of Persia] and Tissaphernes put together.” Today the Kurds live in areas from southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan) to northern Syria (Western Kurdistan) and they are still known as a formidable tribe. No matter where they live, they are regarded as Iranian people.

 

The Kurds view themselves as descendants of the Medes who would eventually become part of the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty. Through this line of descent they practiced Mithraism, one of the earliest known monotheistic religions, of whom the biblical “Three Wise Men” ,or “Magi”, were priests. There are a few origin legends with one from an Armenian historian: “According to the chronicler Mighdisî, the first town to be built after Noah's Flood was the town of Judi, followed by the fortresses of Sinjar and Mifariqin. The town of Judi was ruled by Melik Kürdim of the Prophet Noah's community, a man who lived no less than 600 years and who travelled the length and width of Kurdistan. Coming to Mifariqin he liked its climate and settled there, begetting many children and descendants. He invented a language of his own, independent of Hebrew. It is neither Hebrew nor Arabic, Persian, Dari or Pahlavi; they still call it the language of Kürdim. So the Kurdish language, which was invented in Mifariqin and is now used throughout Kurdistan, owes its name to Melik Kürdim of the community of the Prophet Noah. Because Kurdistan is an endless stony stretch of mountains, there are no less than twelve varieties of Kurdish, differing from one another in pronunciation and vocabulary, so that they often have to use interpreters to understand one another's words.” Jewish sources on the other hand details the Kurds as being the descendants of King Solomon’s angelic servants (Djinn). These were sent to Europe to bring him five-hundred beautiful maidens, for the king's harem. However, when they had done so and returned to Israel the king had already died. As such, the Djinn settled in the mountains, married the women themselves, and their offspring came to be known as the Kurds.

Whichever legend is true, one thing is certain, the Kurds are a strong and fiercely independent tribe that exerts immense influence where ever they are. Most Kurds not only speak their own Kurdish dialect, but also the language of the country they inhabit, be it Persian, Arabic, etc. Throughout history they were either assisting rulers to become the ruler or resisted those that would not allow them their independence and freedom to remain their authentic selves. History is full of their defeats and victories and they produced many strong political candidates, such as Saladin of the Ayyubid Dynasty, Shah Abbas of Persia and also Karim Khan of the Zand Dynasty in Iran, our rugdealer’s maternal forefather.

The Kurds are well known for their carpet weaving of which Senneh and Bijar are but two examples, with these being woven in Iran. Kurdish carpets use medallion patterns, however, far more popular are the all-over floral, Mina Khani motifs and the "jaff" geometric patterns. The beauty of Kurdish designs are enriched by high-chroma blues, greens, saffrons as well as terracotta and burnt orange hues made richer still by the lustrous wool used. The traditional the Kurdish rug uses Kurdish symbols. It is possible to read the dreams, wishes and hopes of the rug maker from the sequence of symbols used.

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Ardabil

This 3m Ardabil passage runner is such a gorgeous piece and as colourful and full of life as the tribe that wove it! The name Ardabil comes from the Zoroastrian name of "Artavil" which means “a holy place”. The major tribe in this area is called the Shahsavan meaning “lovers of the Shah”. All carpets woven in and around Ardabil are influenced by this tribe.

Their ancestors, called the Safavids, were responsible for establishing the greatest Iranian Empire, called the Safavid dynasty, since the Islamic conquest of Persia. This dynasty had its origin in Ardabil and it is from this city that the Safavids established control over all of Persia and reasserted the Persian identity in the region and so becoming the first native dynasty for hundreds of years.

The Safavids were a Persian Sunni dynasty of mixed Azerbaijani and Kurdish origins, which ruled Persia for 200 years. After some political unrest in the dynasty, the Shah of the Safavids invited Shia clerics from the Lebanese region and officially changed the religion from Sunni Islam to Shia Islam. It is this tribe that was responsible for making Shia Islam the official religion in Persia and this has remained unchanged to this day.


The Yaghnobi, descendants of the Sogdians

The Yaghnobi people (Yaghnobi: yaγnōbī́t; Tajik: яғнобиҳо, yağnobiho/jaƣnoʙiho) are an ethnic minority in Tajikistan. They inhabit Tajikistan's Sughd province in the valleys of the Yaghnob, Qul and Varzob rivers. The Yaghnobis are considered to be descendants of the Sogdian-speaking peoples who once inhabited most of Central Asia beyond the Amu Darya River in what was ancient Sogdia.

They speak the Yaghnobi language, a living Eastern Iranian language (the other living members being Pashto, Ossetic and the Pamir languages). Yaghnobi is spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people. It is considered to be a direct descendant of Sogdian and has often been called Neo-Sogdian in academic literature.

Their traditional occupations were agriculture, growing produce such as barley, wheat, and legumes as well as breeding cattle, oxen and asses. There were traditional handicrafts including weaving which was mostly done by the men. The women worked on molding the earthenware crockery.
The Yaghnobi people originated from the Sogdians, a people dominant in the area until the Muslim conquests in the 8th century when Sogdiana was defeated. In that period Yaghnobis settled in the high valleys


Sanandaj/Senneh

The latest acquisition in our antique Persian carpet collection is this Senneh carpet circa 1910. It has a beautiful boteh (paisley) design with roses in the surrounding border, a favourite design amongst the Kurdish weavers who weave the Senneh carpets.

The city of Sanandaj (previously called Senneh), the capitol of the Kurdistan province in the west of Iran, is its place of origin. Senneh carpets are arguably the finest made by the Kurdish weavers and are known for their dense, thick pile and fine designs. Very often the Senneh carpets are made with a fine fish design and they are known for the particular orange-red and blue colourings. Contact Shervin Ghorbany for more details - 0824548533


The Bakhtiari

This beautiful antique Bakhtiari carpet, circa 1910, is one of Ghorbany Carpets' latest acquisitions and is named after the tribe in Iran that wove it.

The Bakthiari is a tribe originating from the South-West of Iran. They view themselves as the descendents of “Fereydun”, widely believed to be a mythical king and hero who is an emblem of victory, justice and generosity. The Bakhtiari consists of two tribes namely: Chahar Lang (Four "limbs") and Haft Lang (Seven "Limbs") groups and each of these two groups are ruled by single powerful families, however, the overall ruling power alternates every two years between the chiefs of both tribes. The Bakhtiari still lives a nomadic lifestyle and migrate between the summer and winter quarters every year. Under the command of the Haft Lang Shah, Sardar Assad, the Bakhtiari captured Tehran and played a significant role in constitutional reform and the abdication of Shah Mohammed Ali in 1909, after which he was exiled to Russia. Before dying in exile in South Africa, Reza Shah Pahlevi attempted to destroy the Bakhtiari during his reign (1925-1941) and they have never fully recovered since that time. They are noted in Iran for their remarkable music. A large number of influential politicians in modern Iran, comes from this tribe.

Contact Shervin Ghorbany on 0824548533 for more information.


The Sanguszko Carpet and the jinbaori war vest of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

"It is not clear where this carpet went after it was woven in a Safavid royal workshop, but it was in the palace of the Ottoman emperor (II Osman) in Istanbul in 1621. At the Battle of Khotin, which included a flank attack by Prince Sanguszko of Poland, the carpet was taken to the Prince-General's tent as war booty, and remained in the possession of the Sanguszko family.

 It was first exhibited in 1904 at St. Petersburg. It was rediscovered by Arthur Upham Pope and shown again in 1931 in London, at the International Exhibition (Congress) of Persian Art, where it caused a great sensation. For the next twenty-three years, Pope had it on loan exhibition" and it became known as the Sanguszko carpet due to its provenance. The carpet was displayed in 1949 for the visit of the Shah of Iran to Pope's Asia Institute in New York. In 1951 Pope saw a picture of the jinbaori war vest of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) that is made from a Kashan flat weave, with the figure of a lion attacking an antelope, and Pope recognized the design as coming from the same cartoon as that used for this carpet."

"This jinbaori vest was made to wear over armor. It was reportedly owned by Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi and has been preserved through time by Kodai-ji Temple, established in memory of Hideyoshi by his widow, Kita-no-Mandokoro.
This vest was woven of silk using tapestry techniques. The textile may originally have been a carpet made in Kashan in Persia. The design of a lion attacking his prey is a traditional motifs in Persian carpets. Such carpets were imported into Japan by Portuguese ships in the Momoyama Period. Placing textiles on the floor, however, was incongruous with the Japanese life style, so the Japanese rarely used them as carpets.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the high-spirited Momoyama-Period military ruler, tried to maintain an atmosphere of luxury even within his military camps by turning exotic textiles such as Persian carpets into jinbaori vests."

Extracts:


What's in a name?

The one thing that is uniform in all Persian carpet stores the world over, is the naming of carpets. It might be less important to a buyer who is just looking to buy a beautiful carpet, but it is of utmost importance to collectors, investors, etc. The naming of Persian carpets was not always as academic as it is today. In previous centuries they were all simply called Turkish, Anatolian, Oriental, Caucasian or Persian identifying it as the highly valued handicrafts from the exotic East.

It is only when the trading powers tipped in favour of the West during the 1800’s and merchants gained more access to the Eastern empires and its rich old histories that it became fashionable to attribute a proper name to carpets. It was probably the stories connected to carpets of its provenance or the tribes who wove it that romanticised this valuable commodity even more. Just owning such a carpet and then being able to tell guests its whole story became a popular reason for throwing a dinner party, especially in America. These western carpet owners played an immensely important role in the academic information available on carpets today. Many of these owners were wealthy travellers and business owners who became collectors and in so doing it became important to document their collections, but to document it properly you need all the information on it: the maker, the place, the era, the materials used, the methods used. Many of these western collectors wrote books on Persian carpets with all the information in it that they could find and it led to more books and more studies. Today we are fortunate to have tons of information available and this often determines the value of carpets more than anything.

In the commercial world there are basically seven different types of names given to carpets: a city, a tribe, an ethnic group, a main selling centre, a designer/weaver/investor, a technique or the purpose.

CITIES:
Carpets are named after cities (such as Ishfahan, Tabriz, Kashan, etc.) because the weaving centres there are permanent. These workshops have specific designs and colours that they use to produce their carpets that are unique to them. These are generally finer quality carpets with higher values.

TRIBES:
Carpets are named after tribes (such as Turkeman, Qashqai, Kurdish, etc.) when these tribes are/were mainly nomadic and they are not based on a certain town or village to weave their carpets. They too have specific designs and colours that are unique to them. These are generally less expensive carpets since they are less refined but there are some very notable exceptions such as the Bijar and Bakhtiari carpets that are generally fine and dense products.

ETHNIC GROUPS:
Carpets are named after an ethnic group (such as Armenian, Jahudi Baf, Romanian, etc.) when there are no distinguishable tribes but it is made by the group as whole in a specific style and colouring unique to them. These carpets have different categories of fineness and the value will depend on this as well as the particular design used.

MAIN SELLING CENTRES:
In many countries there are many villages surrounding a city with a main bazaar where all the carpets are collected to be sold. These carpets are then named after this city/town as opposed to the villages (such as Hamadan, Mussel, etc.). Since most of these centres sell village carpets the values would depend on the fineness of the carpets.

DESIGNERS/MASTER WEAVERS/INVESTORS:
When a certain design was invented by a designer/master weaver/investor their names are given to the carpets as an identifier (such as Mohtasham, Haj Jalili, Ziegler, etc.). The value of these carpets depend on the fineness and age of the carpets as well as whether they were originally woven by the master weaver himself.

TECHNIQUE:
Some carpets are named after the technique of weaving (such as Gabbeh, Jajim, etc.) and are mostly tribal pieces woven by many different tribes. The values would mostly depend on the fineness and age of the carpets.

PURPOSE:
Carpets woven for specific purposes are named after the purpose (such as Prayer rugs, Mafresh – box covers, Sofreh – eating carpet, etc.). The name of the weaving centre or tribe might be added in front of the name to identify the place of weaving. The value of these depend mostly on the fineness and age.

For collectors there are currently five additional types of names that are added to the already long list: the era in which it was woven, the place of discovery, the Renaissance painters, historical events and the provenance.

ERA OF WEAVING:
This generally indicates the age of the carpet (such as Safavid Era, Mamluk Era, Seljuk Era, etc.). These carpets are rare and near priceless.

PLACE OF DISCOVERY:
Believe it or not, even with all the classification, there are still some pieces that are found but its origin cannot be determined. In these cases they are named after the place in which they were discovered (such as Topkapi, Pazyryk, etc.). These carpets are historical artefacts and priceless.

RENAISSANCE PAINTERS:
It was high fashion during Renaissance times to have your portrait painted with all your valuables and many Renaissance painters included Persian carpets in their works of art as well (such as Lotto, Memling, Holbein, etc). Their paintings survived into modern times and it was at first thought that they created the Persian carpets themselves since all their paintings generally included a particular carpet design. Only later when surviving carpets with similar designs were discovered was it realised that they were real, but the name of the painters stuck to it. These carpets are very rare and near priceless.

HISTORICAL EVENTS:
Our forefathers were constantly building and destroying empires and war booty was the prize for all their effort together with diplomatic gifts or royalties paid by subordinate kingdoms. These all often took the form of Persian carpets that was one of the main commodities for centuries. Many of these surviving carpets are named after historical events (such as Polonaise carpets) to commemorate it. These carpets are very rare and near priceless.

PROVENANCE:
Provenance plays a big role in naming some antique pieces (such as the Sanguszko carpets, John Clarke collection, Salting carpets, etc.) even when the weaving style or place is known. These pieces generally become museum assets and are near priceless.

Our RUGDEALER, Shervin Ghorbany, is of the opinion that since the naming of carpets started in earnest the industry has lost some of its value. He compares it to some old secretive religions of Iran that lost its mysticism once scholars started writing about it and in so doing either endangered its very existence or caused its demise. More than the names it is the enjoyment of owning a Persian carpet that you love that matters above all.


Persian Carpet Couture

Our RUGDEALER, Shervin Ghorbany, designed some Persian carpet dresses 15 years ago that was modelled at the Bryanston shopping center as well as at the opening of design quarter shopping center, by amongst others Miss SA Vanessa Carreira and actress, Mirriam Ngomani (who played in the International movies Lord of War and Hotel Rwanda, and also in SA's Deal or no Deal).

The Gift

Caught in a terrible storm on its way home from Batavia (Jakarta), the Dutch flagship Walcheren, filled with what was reputed to be one of the richest cargoes ever brought from the East, sought refuge at Bergen, Norway. Its 1655 and England and Holland is at war.

Frederick III in a secret plot twist allowed the English passage to pillage the ship and her rich cargo, but luckily for the Dutch the Bergen governor was unaware of this arrangement and was adamant to maintain Denmark's neutral stance. He interceded as international law demanded and protected the Dutch ship.

The outraged English then declared war on Denmark, but the following year, in a move of nice diplomatic irony, the grateful Dutch presented a treasured Persian rug from the Walcheren's cargo as a gift to Sophie Amalie, the Danish king's wife. In April 1700, this carpet, "woven with gold," was used in the annointing ceremony of the coronation of Frederick IV and Queen Louise, and it has served in the coronations of Danish kings ever since. It is kept at the Rosenborg Palace, alongside such other national regalia as the Danish scepter and orb and the king's throne.

Once a year, one week in October, The Royal Danish Collections shows the public the Coronation and Chenille Carpets at the Rosenborg Castle.

Photo by Jan Andersen, the Danish Rug Society


Labour of Love

Entering a Persian carpet shop is a thrilling experience. You are instantly transported to countries and cultures thousands of kilometers away from your own through their handwoven art. The richness and multitude of colours, the intricacy of the designs, the softness or roughness of the pile to the touch...it all can be quite overwhelming and yet so stimulating and satisfying at the same time.

Choosing this luxury item - that was once the item to own above all - can be daunting, maybe even outright confusing! Add to that the cost and the uncertainty of whether you are getting a "good deal", your highly pleasurable sensory experience could turn into the opposite. If you throw colour choices in the mix it could become less daunting, but this mysterious item of beauty can still remain a confusing seductress...

I would like to give a bit of advice, if I may...The way I see each piece is that it represents the weaver who wove it. I try to find the story he/she is wanting to tell me because it IS their story. I look at the piece and I start with...

Chapter 1: The colour: The chosen palette tells me about the colours that are important to them, the colours that are available to them and it tells me about their surroundings and what they see. Every colour chosen tells me about their life in colour.

Chapter 2: The design: Every design tells me their family and tribal history. It shows me what characters and symbols are important to them. It may even reveal their daily rituals or routines. It shows me their lineage, their genealogy.

Chapter 3: The knots: Every woven line of knots tells me about a day in their life while weaving this piece, it carries the joys and sorrows experienced during the days, weeks or months of the weaving process. Every fiber tells me the story of their DNA because by weaving each knot they transferred their DNA.

Chapter 4: The cover: The overall look of the carpet tells me who this weaver is and it is up to me to decide whether to buy their labour of love, because that is what this trade is! An absolute, unequivocal labour of love not just for one day, one week, one month, one year, one lifetime but for many centuries and thousands of lifetimes.

I then need to decide whether I want to take their story home and make it part of my own, not just for me but for the generations after me who will inherit the story too.

Happy Carpet Shopping!


The Travelling Merchants

The Silk Road was a system that really work well for all countries and merchants who used it. It allowed for the mixing of cultures, the selling of items, travelling, diplomatic relations, etc. All the cities on the Road naturally flourished as well as the centres where all the goods arrived, for example Baghdad and later Venice, Damascus, etc. If it wasn’t, however, for the travelling merchants who were willing to travel the great distances through difficult and dangerous terrains, the Road might have been less effective.

One such group of merchants who literally travelled from France to China continuously for nearly 500 years during the Middle Ages, was the Radhanites. Very little is known about their origins, apart from that they were Jews, and many academic discussions have been had around the name itself, but according to surviving accounts, especially those written in 870AD by ibn Khordadbeh in his "Book of Roads and Kingdoms", the four main trade routes travelled by the Radhanites all started in the Rhone Valley in France and ended on the east coast of China. Looking at the map detailing their routes makes it clear that the Radhanites, probably more than anyone, carved out and utilized the Silk Road to the fullest extent. It was also likely them that made Europe fall in love with the exotic and luxurious items from the East and thus creating the desire of Europe to strengthen trading ties. Not only that, they introduced the East to Western items that would become equally as desirable and thus trading between West and East happened through the Radhanites. During the middle Ages the Middle East, North Africa and Christian kingdoms in Europe refused to trade with each other or to allow each other’s merchants to even enter their countries, so the Radhanites were the neutral travellers and merchants that could trade on behalf of these kingdoms with each other. They were highly regarded in both the East and West because of the revenues they brought to each and because of their neutrality and enjoyed many privileges that other merchants did not. The Radhanites were multi lingual too. Ibn Khordadbeh records that they were fluent in Arabic, Persian, Roman, the Frank, Spanish and Slav languages.

They traded in items that were light to carry, since much of their routes were on foot, but high in value such as spices, perfumes, jewellery, silk, oils, weaponry, furs and slaves. Furthermore they developed the system of letters of credit to transport large sums of money to reduce the risk of it being looted by bandits on the way, thus becoming the forefathers of the banking system as far back as 500AD to 1000AD. They are credited, amongst many other things, with introducing Chinese papermaking to the West as well as the Arab-Hindu numerals.

Their demise would ultimately be the fall of the Tang Dynasty and Khazar Khanate that caused much of the Silk Road to collapse for many centuries. New mercantile Italian city-states, such as Genoa and Venice, took the opportunity to make themselves desirable trading centres and they viewed the Radhanites as unwanted competitors and made the Radhanites’ purpose redundant. After 1000AD the Radhanites were no more but the effects of their travels remained intact for future merchants to use and thrive.

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radhanite

Armenian carpets

Seeing carpets woven in Armenia makes you stop, stare and wonder. They are beautiful, they are precise, they are pumped with symbolism and you just pick up those centuries of melting pots of cultures all incorporated into making these carpets. They have always been a strong and colourful people so filled with creativity that news of their creations travelled far and wide. Their land is also very strategic in that it was part of the Silk Road and many mighty empires wanted to own this land and many did. The Armenians were not just known for their creativity but also their extraordinary business savvy and skills. They were great merchants and great politicians too so they generally held prominent positions in many eras for many different kings. They played the middle man and buffer for many warring empires and ensured that commerce continued despite “outside appearances”.

Looking into their history and origins you find that the Armenians have a very old history, in fact so old that it goes right back to Noah. Mount Ararat on which the ark landed with Noah and his family and all the animals, is inside the borders of Armenia and the Armenians claim to be descendants from Noah’s son Shem through Hayk the Great, legendary founder of the Armenian nation and killer of Nimrod, the builder of the biblical Tower of Babel. The earliest recording of them is in 13th century BC Akkadian writings in which they are called Urartians, deriving from Urartu – the Akkadian name for Ararat. They were a league of tribes living in close vicinity of each other in the land later called Nairi and at the time they worshipped Khaldi as their supreme deity whose wife Arubani was the goddess of fertility and creativity. No doubt their skills in weaving was attributed to her teachings. Khaldi is depicted standing on top of a lion, a theme that is reflected in many of the old religions of the time, and would even end up in the west and Britain with many knights depicted in the same way.

Modern day Armenia is situated in the highlands surrounding Mount Ararat and recent excavations resulted in the finding of the oldest known leather shoe, skirt and the world's oldest wine-producing facility, all dating to around 4,000 BC, which attest to their long and powerful creative and commercial past. Besides this some carpet fragments dating to around the 7th century BC have also been found making many experts believe that they were the first carpet weavers in the world. Although a more complete rug have not been found from those times, some experts now also believe that the world’s oldest surviving carpet dating to the 3rd century BC, the Pazyryk carpet, was woven by Armenians. Firstly because the knots used is the Armenian double knot, secondly because the red filaments colour was made from Armenian cochineal and thirdly because depiction of the Armenian delegation in murals at Persepolis show the same horse relief as is found on the Pazyryk carpet. Even the historian Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC that the inhabitants of the Caucasus wove beautiful rugs with brilliant colours which would never fade, a theme that was continued by Arab, Persian and Italian historians, travellers and writers throughout the ages. They were well known for their skills in producing dyed wool of which purple was one of their signatures.

For Armenians weaving carpets and textiles is a family affair, only during the time that Armenia formed part of the Soviet Union did the weaving industry become commercialized for a while. Their carpets have always, since the beginning of time, reflected the objects and symbols that were important and holy to them. The eagle -, serpent and dragon carpets all attest to the Armenian Neopaganism before they converted to Zoroastriasm, the Persian religion introduced during the Achaemenid Era when Armenia formed part of the Media satrapy. Christianity spread into the country as early as 40 AD and Tiridates III of Armenia made Christianity the state religion in 301 AD, partly in defiance of the Sasanian Empire some believe. Again, their carpets were changed to incorporate Christian symbolism and in fact certain carpets to this day are believed to reflect the blue print of the Armenian Church designs as well as other obvious Christian symbols.

The term carpet comes from the Armenian word “kapert” formed from the root “kap” which means knot in Armenian. Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, a Florentine merchant stationed in Cyprus, reported in his La pratica della mercatura that from 1274 to 1330, carpets (kaperts) were imported from the Armenian cities of Ayas and Sis to Florence, but the word was used even earlier in the 5th-century Armenian translation of the Bible (Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21). Innumerable Armenian carpets flowed everywhere from East to West through the Silk Road, but during the time of the Ottoman Empire they were all labelled “Turkish carpets” which has since been rectified by the tireless work of many carpet experts through the last century. Some scholars believe that the famous Ottoman prayer rugs can also mostly be attributed to the Armenian weavers. Even though they were woven for prayer practices of Sunni Muslims, the Armenian carpet weavers were already skilled in weaving church architecture into their carpets by the start of Islam and could therefore easily change their own designs to reflect the mihrab (the niche facing Mecca) in mosques. This also attests to the good relations Armenians had with the diverse cultures that formed their neighbours and the trust placed in them.

Persians and the Armenians have always shared a very special relationship because Armenia formed part of Persia for most of its history. During the wars between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, Armenia was divided into Western Armenia ruled by the Ottomans and Eastern Armenia ruled by the Persians. Shah Abbas during the Safavid Dynasty forcefully relocated Armenians from Eastern Armenia to New Julfa in Isfahan. Bourvari, a collection of villages in Khomein, is another area mainly populated by Armenians who suffered Shah Abbas’ scorched earth policy of Eastern Armenia. This is a strong indicator of just how important the Armenians were to the Persians that they didn’t want to risk losing these skilled people to the Ottomans. Their contribution to Iranian arts, crafts, commerce and politics have been invaluable and they are regarded as the most influential religious minority in Iran, being Christians, and the oldest Armenian churches are situated in the Iran. They are well known for their unique carpet weaving of which Khomein and Viss carpets are probably the most well-known. Besides the living areas mentioned, the Armenians in Iran also have a long history of living in Chaharmahal Bakhtiari where they have also developed a special style of carpet called Armani Baf. Another Armenian city in Iran famous for its carpets is Khoy and its’ neighbouring villages.

"The complex history of Armenian weaving and needlework was acted out in the Near East, a vast, ancient, and ethnically diverse region. Few are the people who, like the Armenians, can boast of a continuous and consistent record of fine textile production from the 1st millennium BC to the present. Armenians today are blessed by the diversity and richness of a textile heritage passed on by thirty centuries of diligent practice; yet they are burdened by the pressure to keep alive a tradition nearly destroyed in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and subverted by a technology that condemns handmade fabrics to museums and lets machines produce perfect, but lifeless cloth".

Sources:


The Road that binds

The Silk Road brings visions of mysterious and exotic merchants and travellers from distant lands carrying extraordinary goods on the backs of camels. It was called the Silk Road because the silks of China became the most important commodity for all the trading partners and became the form of payment, however, at a later stage the Sasanid coins became the accepted form of payment. This long winding road has been the source of many fantastical stories and adventures of people from all over the world. To write its’ colourful history would probably take as long as it did to develop this road, but I will do my best to summarize all the influences that melted together to give us such a great memory. Three main players started this incredible road that would eventually connect cultures for centuries to come before the Internet was even a thought.

We start our journey in the region of the Hungarian plains stretching all the way to the Chinese Kansu corridor (8BC to around 600AD) where the highly skilled Scythian warrior tribes lived. One look at the arts and crafts they left behind and it is clear that not only were they extraordinary warriors but they had excellent taste in décor and design! Before melting into various different tribes including the Sogdians, they carved out a road that connected many villages and in so doing they encouraged trade along it. Chinese silks were found in a Scythian burial in Germany dated to 6th BC indicating that the Scythians traded with the Chinese from very early on.

Down South the mighty Achaemenid Empire ruled by Cyrus the Great carved out their own path. The Royal Road stretched 2,857km from Susa to the Port of Smyrna (modern day Izmir) that allowed royal couriers to carry messages the entire distance in only 9 days. This was achieved by having postal stations (the first in the world) and relays at regular intervals where there awaited fresh horses and couriers to continue the journey. The road was maintained and protected by the king. When Alexander the Great took over the Persian Empire he travelled further east and establish his city, Alexandria Eschate, in today’s Xinjiang province of China. His successors went further into Sogdiana and even as far as Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan which led to the first contact between the Chinese and their neighbour. The Royal Road was extended to include these new areas.

At the same time the Chinese Emperor Wu also got his own road after he took it from his enemies, the Hsiung-nu, and hearing about the riches of neighbours outside the borders of China (Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia), his desire to connect his road to their lands became of utmost importance. At this point China already had a “Maritime Silk Road” that connected it to India.Trade between these three commenced and thrived until another very wealthy customer entered the fray. When the Romans annexed Egypt and saw the incredible objects of beauty on offer, a love affair started and I am not just referring to Julius and Cleopatra. The Romans realized just how much more trade along the Silk Road could enrich Rome and once the Roman ladies held silk in their hands, the days of cotton and wool garments were gone! As much as the Roman Senate tried to prohibit them from wearing these see-through silk garments and stop them from sending all their money east, it simply didn’t work! Unfortunately the wealthy Rome fell on hard times around the 5th Century and with it the high demand for Asian products.

With all the inflow of Western money the Sasanid, Sogdian and Chinese Empires flourished and there was no end to the exquisite products they produced. With the acquisition of silks from China the Sasanids and Sogdians were able to make textiles that are still renowned today and the finest, most unbelievable Persian carpet creations known to man.

The Byzantine’s didn’t enjoy very friendly relations with the Sasanids but as the successor of the Eastern Roman Empire its citizens came to rely on the products from the East. The Sasanids controlled its entrance to the Silk Road and didn’t play nice with the threatening Byzantine forces. The Sogdians, being cunning and very diplomatic, cut a deal with the Byzantines to bypass the Sasanids and trade directly with them instead. Even though some Byzantine monks secretly stole some silkworm eggs at one point that gave the Byzantine Empire the monopoly on silk production in Europe, the Chinese silks were still seen as far superior quality and the Byzantines thus continued their trade with the Sogdians.

Rising forces of Islam saw many changes in the mighty world empires at the time and Persia would finally fall into its hands. This saw a massive creative transformation in the arts and Islamic art became the new craze all over, but it also placed a large part of the Silk Road in their hands. At the same time the Tang Dynasty in China managed to finally defeat the ever protruding Tibetan forces, a move that ensured the permanent reopening of the Silk Road in China. This was the start of the Golden Era of the Silk Road as the most important trade route from East to West. The mix of foreign cultures, religions, arts, crafts, wisdom, knowledge, information all made humankind so much richer. The Tang Dynasty also increased their Maritime Silk Road travelling not just to India, but also the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, into Persia, Mesopotamia (sailing up the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq), Arabia, Egypt, Aksum (Ethiopia), and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

As much as the Silk Road contributed to the wealth and well-being of all involved, it also contributed to the opposite. Disease unknown to some parts were brought there from other parts and the Black Death also made its way up the Silk Road resulting in millions of deaths. The well managed and travelled Silk Road also aided many new forces to invade lands, such as the Mongols who established their bases all along the major cities on the road. Yet no matter who the rulers are, the traders kept trading and just adjusted their lives accordingly, after all it didn’t really matter who you had to pay tributes to as long as you get to sell and buy what you need and want.

At some point the Silk Road became more dangerous and treacherous, with bandits robbing traders and travellers and selling them into slavery, and the different empires chose trade at sea for a while resulting in a quieter time along the Silk Road, until the losses at sea became more expensive due to storms and pirating of ships and cargo. Believe it or not it was the camel that saved the Silk Road. Here amongst us is this beast that can walk for days and survive in severe conditions and carry huge amounts of weight. It was the solution to many problems on land and the camel became one of the most important commodities on the Silk Road and its unlikely savior. From the time of using camels until the production of motor cars, the camel remained the preferred mode of transport for merchants in the Middle East along the Silk Road.

When the Ottomans took control of the area the Grand Bazaar in Turkey became the hot spot for Silk Road trade, because here East and West met and wealthy customers and merchants came from all over to meet in this most interesting melting pot of cultures.

“One vivid account comes from a French traveler in 1877, during the last years that the Grand Bazaar could still be seen in its original form. The writer, M. de Gasparin, is an incurable romantic. But there is clearly enough color in the bazaar to spark any imagination:

“An Arab, with his spear in hand, sitting surrounded by the Persian shawls which he brought by his caravans, used to walk after a long row of camels in the desert. Another merchant is from the depths of Central Asia. Another one, with a thin face and pale complexion, has passed the sand and the seaside beaches of Syria on horseback and brought golden colored silk from Lebanon and soft clothes and pleasant scarves from Tyre and Sidon ... Egypt has sent that nearly black-skinned merchant who has brought the heavy cloth of that country, a mixture of silk and wool. This thin-faced bronze, tanned man comes from Morocco, leaning against milk-white threads and lapis blue dresses. Wherever these men may have been, whatever adventures they may have lived and whichever foreign country has injected the traces of other skies into their faces, their brows have lost nothing of their majestic nobility and their meaningful eyes have lost nothing of the depth that comes from authority, self-respect, and self-assurance. These merchants do not call the passers-by to their shops. They do not even have an inviting attitude; one could sense no greed in them, nor any worry in their posture … If a buyer came, ‘Masallah,’ if no one entered their shops, ‘So what?’”

There were rugs from Central Asia, from the Caucasus, from Anatolia. There were rugs smuggled by the tons across the border from Persia, the Ottoman Empire’s great eastern rival. The border was often officially closed but the carpet trade was so lucrative that both sides turned to a third party – their Armenian populations – to act as the go-between for the business and let them freely cross the frontier."

From here goods also flowed to Venice from where it would enter the insatiable European market. It is after all the constant demand for exotic Eastern items that kept the Silk Road and all its merchants, craftsmen, artists and partners going until the Europeans, tired of having to pay constant taxes, found their own way to the East. Then a new way and wave of doing business commenced that completely side-lined the Silk Road and all her partners. It tipped the scales of power into the hands of the West and one can argue that that is still the case. Yet the romantic, the mystical, the magical, the exotic Silk Road culture lives on in the many cultures that still live on it uninfluenced by modern life. We see it in their carpet designs, in their clothing and their art, and it takes us back to that time of wonder.

Sources:


The Prayer Rug

Prayer rugs have always been highly revered because of the purpose it serves in religious rituals. It is not only providing a clean spot for prayers to be performed, but in its design it also represents the promise of paradise and eternity. The design and colouring always depend on the weavers, their history and symbols that they find important enough to display in their prayer rugs, but all prayer rugs display a niche that represents the niche in a mosque, called the mihrab. The mihrab in a mosque is made in a wall that faces the Kaaba in Mecca and therefore represents the direction in which prayers are to be performed.

Some prayer rugs showcase the actual architecture of the mihrab in specific mosques whereas others are more abstract representations of the idea. The niche on a prayer rug is generally the place where the head is placed and the two spaces next to it, the place where you place your hands when kneeling down in prayer. This allows the participant to visualize the mihrab and in so doing also the Kaaba in Mecca and heaven. Prayer rugs are exclusively woven and used by Sunni Muslims. Muslims practising Shi’ite Islam, like majority Iranians, use prayer stones and their closest representation to a prayer rug would be those with the tree of life design.

What a shock then when some Shi’ite prayer rugs were discovered in the Topkapi Palace treasury. The carpet world came to a standstill. This was an impossibility! The speculation is that at the time that the balance of power fell to the Ottomans during Iran’s Safavid Dynasty, "the Safavid Shah Tahmasp, who reigned for 52 years during this regional warfare, turned to a policy of appeasement instead." He offered gifts to the Ottomans in many forms including carpets. Now it could be that he ordered prayer rugs to be woven in acknowledgement of the practices of the Ottomans, but including Shi’ite prayer inscriptions were either a diplomatic slap to the Ottoman faces or a way to introduce Shi’ite Islam to the predominantly Sunni Ottomans. Whatever the reason, these were the first and last Shi’ite prayer rugs woven as far as is known.

Another shock went through the carpet world when over 400 well preserved Ottoman prayer rugs were discovered in the Gothic Christian churches of Transylvania. How did this happen? What were prayer rugs, exclusively associated with Islam, doing in Christian churches? During the reign of the Ottomans the empire stretched as far as Austria, but not all countries were incorporated into the empire. Some previous Roman satraps remained independent but had to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. One such area was Transylvania that remained Christian.

“Organized trade between the Romanian countries and the Ottoman Empire began with Sultan Mehmed II's decree of 1456, granting Moldavian merchants the right to travel to Constantinople for trade. The role of Turkish rugs as trade goods of high value and prestigious collectibles is documented in the merchant accreditations, vigesimal accounts, municipal and church annals as well as individual contracts and wills, archived in the Transylvanian towns. The municipalities and other institutions of the Saxon towns, persons of nobility and public influence, as well as citizens were owners of Ottoman rugs. The towns acquired Turkish rugs either as customs duty paid in like, or purchased rugs from the trade. Rugs were frequently offered to public persons as a gift of honour.

Rugs were used to mark the place of individual persons, or members of a guild, in church. There is also evidence of collections owned by private persons. Contracts specify that the rugs were hung on the walls of private homes for decoration. As such, rugs were used to confirm the social status of the owner, but the reports also confirm that the carpets were perceived as objects of beauty and art. The Transylvanian Saxons referred to them as "Kirchenteppiche" ("church carpets") even though a significant number of the rugs which still are on display in Transylvanian churches show Islamic prayer rug designs.” These prayer rugs are still on display in the Transylvanian churches to this day.

There are mainly four types of prayer rugs identified in the churches: prayer rugs, single niche, double niche and column rugs. The prayer rugs display a single niche but with an empty field in a single colour in the middle field. The single niche has some decorative patterns inside the middle field. The Column rugs are characterized by column motifs supporting an architectural structure, most often an arch. “The Double-niche layout came into being probably because of the edict sent to Kütahya in 1610, under the rule of Sultan Ahmed I, which stated:

We heard that, weavers are producing carpets and seccades in your kazas (townships) depicting mihrab, kabe (Kaaba) and hat (calligraphy) on carpets and seccades and selling them to non-Muslims. Shaykh al-Islam prescribes this is against Islam and forbidden by şeriat.
(Ahmet Refik, Istanbul Hayati (1000 – 1100), Istanbul, doc. 83, pp.43-44 Transl. by Levent Boz, Ankara)

So, producing rugs for export in this format was a way of ostensibly obeying the Edict. When the second niche was added the field pattern had to be adapted. The idea of the double-niche could have been borrowed from small-medallion Ushaks or from book-binding but all the design elements reflect the Single-niche rugs.”

There are some examples of Christian “prayer rugs” too. The central shield-like design in Kazak Sevan rugs is thought by some to relate to the floor plan of Armenian churches. Interestingly the design also represents the Armenian grave stones that are made from a special soil. Historically when the demand in the west for prayer rugs increased a lot of Armenian workshops started producing them since they were also involved in dyeing the wool for these rugs before. This rug establishes the fact that some classic Caucasian designs were woven by Armenians, and it confirms the impression that Armenian rugs were part of the mainstream rug production in the nineteenth century rather than the periphery. There are many rugs woven by Armenians inside and outside of Iran, that include many Christian symbols in the design of their rugs.

Sources:

 


Mamluk Carpets

Egypt has produced many wonderful carpets over the years and the most collectible today are the Mamluk carpets. They were not just made in Egypt but also in Syria and Turkey – basically in all the areas that formed part of the Mamluk Sultanate from 1250 – 1517 AD. There are mainly two types of surviving Mamluk carpets: one has a centre medallion and the other a repeated medallion pattern in the inner field.

A brief history of the Mamluks: The Mamluks were a class of slave soldiers used by the Islamic rulers, something that was unique to their rule. This class of slaves were higher than other slave classes and were mostly made up of young boys sold by their families to be trained as soldiers. Due to their many years of training they became fierce and loyal to their owners and because of that were often awarded high positions in the armies and society. The Mamluk Dynasties originated due to political turmoil in Egypt and the Mamluks took over for a time to maintain the status quo. There were two Mamluk Dynasties, one being the Bahri Dynasty (comprising mostly people of Cuman-Kipchak Turkic origin) and the second being Burji Dynasty (comprising mostly people of Circassian origin), both initially originating from the Caucuses. The surviving Mamluk carpets are mostly from the second dynasty.

The first style of Mamluk carpets from Egypt featured significantly in Mediterranean commerce and appear in Venetian paintings as early as the sixteenth century. They are characterized by a central medallion surrounded by a variety of smaller geometric motifs, forming a kaleidoscopic appearance. The palette is limited to red, blue, green, and yellow tones. Documents first refer to Cairo as a center of carpet weaving in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, and production continued until the mid-sixteenth century, shortly after the 1517 Ottoman conquest of Egypt. (Photo courtesy of The MAK)

The second style of Mamluk carpets is the Damascus rug, often attributed to Damascus, Syria, in the 16th or 17th century in continuation of the rug art of the Mamlūk rulers of that land. The usual Damascus field pattern is a grid of small squares or rectangles (hence the European term chessboard carpets), each of which includes a hexagon or octagon filled with tiny radial motifs that surround a star interlace. Among the other field patterns that occur is a large one with several medallions. The material is thought to be goat hair throughout. These rugs, like the Mamluk and Ottoman carpets of Egypt, were made with the asymmetrical knot.

Sources & extracts:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamluk
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamluk_Sultanate_(Cairo)
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/maml/hd_maml.htm


Pretty in Paisley

It is quite thrilling to see how the West embraced Eastern designs over the centuries with such verve! The East have had sophisticated designers, artists, musicians and craftsmen far longer than the West so when the two sides started trading the Europeans got to experience these items first hand. During the 15th to the 18th Century untold amounts of European money flowed to the East to acquire these beautiful, often rare and mystical, items. It wasn’t just food and flora, but also carpets, tapestries and textiles that flooded the homes of European royalty and elite.

During the 17th century European artists started mimicking the carpets, tapestries and even textiles, first by hand and later by machine. Even though the Eastern items were always regarded as far better quality, the newly European made items were a good second choice for most. They could mostly copy the designs, but not to the detailed extend of those made in the East, yet as time passed the Europeans improved their weaving to include better quality wool, cotton and silk as well as more colours. Over time the designs became "western" and the stories of their origins lost...

One such design that has been a Western favourite for centuries is Paisley. It was named after the town in Scotland that became most famous for producing exquisite paisley shawls. However, as with most designs, its origins lies east. One thing about the early cultures that populated the East and Middle East is that all their art had a meaning and a reference to their god/s. There is simply no design that does not correspond with a certain religion and the same with paisley.

In Iran it is called the Boteh (teardrop) and according to different accounts the Boteh has various origins. The first and most popular is that it represents the Cypress tree. In Mithraism – one of Iran’s first monotheistic religions – the Cypress tree held a great significance to Mithra. Even in the next religion, Zoroastriasm, the Cypress is regarded as holy and all tree of life motifs in Persian carpets are said to represent this tree. The second origin is that of the fig. When a fig is cut open its resemblance to paisley is uncanny and in Iran the fig is revered for its rejuvenating properties as a fruit as well as in many myths and legends. The third and probably most mystical is that it represents a pregnant womb of a mother. One can argue that the two first mentioned origins all stem from this one. It all comes down to the beautiful cycle of life creation on earth.

So next time you don your paisley shawl, shirt, skirt or jacket know you are wearing a very fashionable design with very mystical origins!


Music to my ears

“Give a man a fish and he won’t go hungry for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will never go hungry again.” I cannot think of a more suitable saying to apply to the trade of carpet weaving. It is a trade that has provided an income to millions of weavers for thousands of years. Depending on what you weave you could provide for your family for at least a season or two, maybe even a whole year. Knowing the skill of carpet weaving ensures that you can determine the income you will receive, like a freelance artist in the West, one can say.

What a creative trade to have whether you are the pattern designer, the dyer or the weaver. Every aspect requires imagination and calculation. To know that every hand movement you make creates a knot that will finally form one holistic beautiful picture, is almost like knowing that every drop in the ocean contributes to its volume and majesty. Every knot is like a pixel. Put many together in different colours and arrangements and you have an exquisite picture in the end. Not just that, it is the perfect preservation of history and a culture.

But weaving these incredible pieces that have been fantastic trading and diplomatic tools for thousands of years, has its job injuries too. Over many years many weavers can no longer walk up right from bending in front or over the looms all the time, even though they limit their weaving to six hours a day. Many develop painful calluses on their fingers from years of pulling the knots tighter and handling their tools. Their eye sight and even sometimes their lungs get affected from focusing their eyes too long and breathing in the wool particles. It isn’t easy, like many trades, it leaves its scars, but in the end your reward is the satisfaction that your handy work is providing for the needs of your household. In addition you know that someone somewhere someday will admire and adore your carpet enough to buy it for their home.

When I saw this picture of a weaver touching the warps on her loom I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between her touching the wool and a harp player touching the strings on her instrument. Then it dawned on me that they are the same in a way. It was philosopher and thinker Pythagoras that allocated a music note to every colour, so a weaver is playing a symphony, but a visual one. What if we could hear a Persian carpet “being played”, every knot a different note? How magical that would be!

Scientists have recently converted many things to music, from tree trunks to water. Knowing how creative and scientific the Persian minds are today, I am patiently waiting for someone to convert a Persian carpet into music. The warmer colours will be the lower notes with red being the lowest and the cooler colours will be the higher notes with indigo being the highest. The magic of this conversion will be in how harmoniously the melody mimics the harmonies of the design. The converter will have to know how to interpret the carpet into the symphony that originally played in the heart of the weaver.

Each carpet has a beginning and an end and the most crucial element of the conversion will be in finding that beginning point. In carpets with medallions the beginning point is always at the centre of the medallion even though it is located in the middle of the carpet. The weaver starts weaving the carpet with that centre point in her heart even though she starts the carpet from the bottom/end working her way up to the start. So if she was writing a melody, she would be writing it backwards but always having the chorus in her heart from the start.

In my investigation the golden ratio is always present in the creation of any carpet from the length/width ratio to the ratio in the designs present in the carpet, as it is present in all creation and the melodies they play. Like the seven music notes are in exact harmony with the golden ration, so are the seven layers of heaven and earth that are present in every Persian carpet. It is this that would make it perfect for conversion to music.

Until that day comes I will look at every carpet wondering what it sounds like…Maybe I will kneel down, put my ear on it and close my eyes and like a sea shell is said to hold the sound of the ocean, maybe I will hear the melody, faintly at first and then louder as it reaches its crescendo and chorus. That day I will walk away with a smile whistling the magical tune I just heard.


Beshir carpets -- Slave carpets?

As carpet dealers/-collectors/-connoisseurs we just love to connect a carpet to a place or a people. It gives us some insight into how and why rugs are made the way they are and it helps us place a value on it that might be highly influenced by its origins. These days there are more and more antique rugs on the market, than say 200 years ago, and as life goes there are sometimes pieces that we call a certain name, but the origin of it remains a mystery to us, especially when the certain carpets are no longer produced. Nothing thrills us more than to piece the puzzle together bit by bit and eventually reach that “aha” moment where we can say with certainty: THIS IS WHO MADE IT and now the whole pattern and design makes just so much more sense! Through the ages many tribes ceased to exist - either by extinction, integration or genocide; sometimes their place of origin changes and forces them to migrate; all of this has an irrevocable effect on their arts and crafts that changes with them and remain as definite proof of their existence.

One of these carpet groups that is still a bit puzzling in the carpet world is the Beshir carpets. They are called Beshir because it is believed that they were made in a small village next to the Amu Darya river bank that was called Beshir. They are, however, no longer produced and haven’t been for over 100 years, but it is known that they made their way through Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. They are highly collectible and thus they cause much speculation and discussions as to whom could have made them. Not all histories of peoples are written down but the carpets serve as the silent voice of a people that existed and produced them.

The Beshir tribe has been linked to the Ersari Turkmens, but the link doesn’t appear to be that clear. The designs in the Beshir carpets are entirely different from other Turkmen carpets, they used a reddish brown as opposed to the trademark deep red of the Turkmen, their designs were larger and less compact and they wove the carpets with an asymmetrical/Persian knot which opens to the right as opposed to the Turkmen Turkish knot or Persian knot that opens to the left. This is highly unusual. so to satisfy our curiosity we decided to dig deeper and here is what we found.

The Ersari tribes lived in the modern day Balkan province of Turkmenistan up to the around the 17th century when a large majority of them moved eastward, after the drying up of the Uzboy channel. If the Beshir tribe was indeed a member of the larger Ersari tribe, the Balkan province would be a good starting point. Who else lived there and when?

The Balkan province borders Iran so it would be fair to expect some influences flowing upwards and downwards. The earliest mention of a tribe in that region is that of the Turanians 2400 BCE in the Farvardin yashts. The Avesta mentions many old tribes including the Tuiryas (Turanians) as enemies of the Airyas (Aryans, associated with the Iranian people). Two more tribes mentioned as living in the Balkan province are the Sarmatians and the Dahae. Around the 6th century with arrival of Turks in the area the term Turanian and Turkic became interchangeable even though there is no relation between the two.

From around 1800 BC other people called the Andronovo culture started moving westward from Siberia towards the current day Balkan province of Turkmenistan. They were a flourishing society and covered a vast area. After them, from the late 2nd millennium BC, the Scythian tribes, along with Cimmerians, Sarmatians and Alans populated the steppes north of the Black Sea and also formed the Indo-Scythian Empire in the modern day Balkan province. These Scythians is the same tribe that produced the oldest surviving carpet – the Pazyryk carpet – now in the State Hermitage Museum in Russia. The Scythians and the Sarmatians would eventually dissolve into the Germanic, Gothic and Proto-Slavic cultures.

From the Achaemenid Era up to the Khwarazmian Dynasty the Balkan province remained part of the Persian Empire (or whatever name it was called at different times). It became the “Khanate of Khiva that existed in the historical region of Khwarezm from 1511 to 1920, except for a period of Afsharid occupation by Nadir Shah between 1740–1746. It covered present western Uzbekistan, southwestern Kazakhstan and much of Turkmenistan before Russian arrival at the second half of the 19th century. The discovery of gold on the banks of the Amu Darya during the reign of Russia's Peter the Great, together with the desire of the Russian Empire to open a trade route to India, prompted an armed trade expedition to the region in 1717-18, led by Prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky and consisting of 750-4,000 men. Upon receiving the men, the Khivan khan, Shir Ghazi, set up camp under the pretence of goodwill, then ambushed and slaughtered the envoys, leaving ten alive to send back.”

It could have been at this time that the Ersari Turkic tribes started migrating eastward. The British and Russians tried many times thereafter to annex the area, but it would ultimately be the Russians who would succeed when they set up a permanent presence from 1848. This could also explain why the Beshir carpets ceased to be produced. The people either moved away or ceased to exist. In 1924 after its last Kungrad Kahn abdicated it was incorporated into the Soviet Union until 1991 when it became Turkmenistan officially. Apart from the empires that occupied the territory there were many influences from the Khalaj, Igdi, Sogdians and Kara Tatars.

Up to now we discussed the historical traces and possible influences in the region, but it still is not enough information to find out who wove the Beshir carpets. Shervin Ghorbany started to investigate this mystery without any predetermined conclusions and with a more forensic approach which led him to the following theory:

1 – Beshir carpets in the beginning, 17th century examples, were woven with a freer, less dense design than its successors. This already gives some clues to Shervin that we are probably dealing with a Persian tribe as opposed to a Turkic tribe of the region.

2 – The more recent Beshir carpets became denser in design and the patterns became smaller, which proves that the carpets became Turkemenized, however, the overall style of the carpet remains Persian and therefore lots of scholars call it Persianized Turkman carpets. There is a big difference in how we look at this category carpet. Shervin looks at it as originally Persian tribal carpets that became Turkemenized versus the general accepted idea that it was Turkman carpets that became Persianite over time.

3 – The colour of the Beshir carpets is vastly different than the rest of the Turkman carpets. In Shervin’s point of view there was someone amongst the weavers with the knowledge on dyeing wool according to Persian custom and/or it was a label for a specific group of people that made these carpets amongst the Turkic tribes. To understand this point you should understand that during history groups of people were often prohibited from using certain colours either in their clothing or art, or they were forced to wear or use certain colours as identification. This usually occurred when they were regarded as an inferior race or class, or oppressed.

4 – Besides the points in No. 3, the majority of the Beshir carpets are wide runners. It looks like the people that made these carpets did not have the freedom or the space to make any other size or shape carpets. It could also indicate that they did not live like the normal Turkman in a tent, because there isn’t even a band carpet (normally used to drape around the nomadic tents) available in the Beshir carpets.

5 – Considering all these points, Shervin is of the opinion that we might be dealing with a tribe that was held captive for many years in the Turkman territories – the current Balkan Province.

6 – According to the history the Tekke Turkman were well known raiders in the Balkan Province, then the Khanate of Khiva, who regularly attacked villages and caravans and would then sell the occupants as slaves in Khiva. Majority of these unlucky traveller/merchants/residents were Persians. There were also some Russian slaves but they were in the minority. The treatment of the Persian slaves are well documented as horrific and inhumane. They were definitely regarded as a lesser class than the general populace in the area.

Could these Persian slaves have been responsible for weaving the Beshir that so closely resembled some Persian designs and colouring, and using the Persian knot (opening to the right)? According to accounts they were kept outside so the Beshir could have been their weaving for their own personal use as carpets to live on, sleep on and eat on; which could explain the fact that the Beshir carpets are mostly wide runners. The Russians and British became very involved in the area with freeing slaves towards the late 19th century which could explain why the Beshir is no longer woven since then. The Persian slaves were freed and they took their secrets with them.
By Shervin & Vanessa Ghorbany

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The Attarha House, Kashan

Kashan is a city situated in the Isfahan province of Iran estimated to be between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. It has been known through the ages for its many inhabitants and arts, of which the Iranian tile (called “kashi”), malile (silk fabric) and carpets are the most famous still.

Kashan is also these days favoured as a top tourist destination with many incredible buildings and estate houses built by very influential families during the Qajar Dynasty, most notable is the Tabātabāei House, the Boroujerdi House and the Attarha house. The first two mentioned houses were designed by Ali Maryam, a very famous architect at the time, with some traces of the advice of Saniol Molk and later his nephew, Kamalol Molk, both top painters of the Qajar period. Prior to the Qajar Dynasty and earthquake levelled nearly the entire city and for a good few decades the city was in derelict state until the Qajars decided to rebuild and renew the once bustling economic hub. The mosques, bazaar and many other public buildings in Kashan thus showcase the exquisite architecture of the Qajar Era.

One of the affluent families in Kashan in the late 1800’s to mid-1900’s were the Attarhas. The two Attarha brothers were top merchants of Kashan at the time and were so successful in their endeavours that one of them were given the title of “Malakol Tojar”, translated to King of the Merchants. This brother built an estate home for his family which came to be known as the Attarha House. The family exerted their influence in the business world of the city and was also responsible for commissioning and financing many Persian carpets. One of his sons, Javad, later became the mayor of Kashan and inhabited the family home, together with his wife and four sons, until the Pahlavi Dynasty. At that time the family moved out of the stately home, but it was later occupied again by one of Javad’s sons, possibly Mahsoud, who renovated the home. Later the home was donated to the city of Kashan, like most of the other estate houses, and it became part of the Architecture University of Kashan. Today it is occupied as a study centre of Persian carpets by the Kashan University.

The carpet in our collection of Ahmad Shah, the last king of the Qajar Dynasty, is one of the carpets commissioned by the Attarha brother at the time that he held the title of Malakol Tojar – King of the Merchants. There is a woven inscription stating that the carpet was commissioned by the Attarha Brothers.


Rashti Embroideries

Nestled next to the Caspian Sea, in the Gilan Province of Iran, is the city of Rasht. The city itself is very old and has hosted many tribes from before the Achaemenid Era all of whom are now obsolete due to integration into the greater Persian Empire over the ages.

These days you will find the Gilaki people there and even their origins are quite mysterious because there isn’t a lot of ancient information available on them, apart from the fact that they lived in the mountains and then moved down to the valley over time.

It is thanks to Shah Abbas and a Chinese merchant that Rasht became a flourishing economic hub. The route through Rasht was the “Gateway to the West” and many goods flowed through there. Thus, when the Chinese merchant brought along a silk worm a whole new industry was born, that of silk textiles. Shah Abbas, a very important patron of weaving in the Safavid Era, made Rasht the capital of the Gilan province and promoted the production of silk textiles at a time when Europe and the East were infatuated with each other's goods. Even after becoming economically important in the Eastern-Western trade relations Rasht maintained its’ village feel and look. Some visitors in the 18th century mentioned that, compared to the other big cities in Iran, Rasht appears more as a big village than a city. It had no boundary wall enveloping the city and the bazaar was in the open air, as opposed the undercover bazaars in Iran. The city was surrounded with wetlands, forests, rice paddies, mulberry plantations and silkworm nurseries.

Today the silk textile industry in Rasht is still a large part of life, together with producing rice and caviar – the best in the world according to many connoisseurs. Our Rugdealer’s own maternal great grandfather owned silk factories in Rasht for many years before returning to Tehran. The embroidery in this photo (circa 1900) is an antique Rashti embroidery showcasing the Tree of Life, Vase design and Lion and Sun design and is exclusively available at Ghorbany Carpets and a definite must for any collectors or embroidery lovers.


The Afghan War Rugs

The weavers in Iran, in particular Tabriz, are very well known for their exquisite weaving of picturesque carpets. They can literally weave any picture to perfection! These pieces are beautiful, so fine, so skilfully woven that you just want to hang on your wall and allow it to take your breath away every time you look at it.

A neighbour to Iran that has been part of the Persian Empire for centuries, Afghanistan, also started making picturesque carpets, but theirs are very different in subject. The Afghan weavers are also known for their fine weaving skills, but during the decade of Soviet invasion in the country, their topic of choice became their daily lives and what they observed. Call it a silent witness, call it defiance, call it social media of the day, call it realism art. Whatever you call it, it was their tale to tell through their weaving. Changing from their traditional pattern to the realities of war was their way of coping with what was happening around them and being able to still make a living.

For centuries weavers have known how to weave symbolism into their carpets in disguise during periods of regime or religious changes. Take for instance the all too popular 8 leafed flowers that are found in almost every carpet, this used to be the 8 point star of Mithraism revered as a holy symbol but banned once the Mithraic followers were persecuted. The sickle leaf was once a fish, also a holy Mithraic symbol. So too did the Afghan weavers disguise the objects of war in their carpets.

At first they included gentle representations of bombs, hand grenades, etc. in between their traditional designs. Those who noticed it was not in favour of this display of war in art, because the face of war is never comfortable to look at. But once the historical value of these pieces became apparent, its appeal grew, especially in the West. Soon the subtle designs changed into blunt, truthful “pictures”/mirrors of what the general Afghani populace were experiencing. To put the picture into perspective here: An estimated 2 million Afghan civilian deaths occurred, 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 2 million more were displaced within the country.

Firearms, tanks, helicopters, explosions, they were all put on display in the new Afghan rugs. Once the Western market demanded more, maps of Afghanistan and English wording, such as the names of the weaponry and region, were also included. Because many of the weavers are not skilled English speakers the spelling is often wrong and that adds to the specialness of these creations.

After the Russians left there were much internal turmoil in Afghanistan and later when the USA started spreading propaganda for change, after 2001, a new wave of Afghan War Carpets saw the light. This time with pictures of the Twin Towers burning. Again it was not something people wanted to see, but the Afghans used the flyers dropped by the USA as their framework for these carpets. It is difficult to see ourselves reflected back to us, but sometimes we need to look at us as the human collective and what we do to each other. The Afghans have captured their war into their art and so cemented it in time as a reminder to us all.

Pictured here is an Afghan War Rug in the Ghorbany Private Collection


A common thread

In the world of Persian carpets history and geography play a very big role and carpet dealers have knowledge of unwritten history and geography simply based on the carpet designs that survives. It is this knowledge that can make a carpet highly collectible and valuable. The world of carpets is so vast and so old that many stories have gotten lost and many weavers have been forgotten, but the carpet designs survived and still serves as the unwritten record of what happened.

In Iran it is not uncommon to find two villages literally located 5km apart that speak two entirely different languages and weave carpets that are entirely different in design, method and colouring, despite these villages having co-existed for centuries. Yet there is a common thread in carpets woven in the vast “North West”. Even if a carpet dealer cannot pinpoint the exact city/village, the carpets woven in the North West can easily be detected. How can this be in this very distinct business where weavers religiously retain the designs and methods of their ancestors?

Centuries ago as far back as the Achaemenid period of Iran, a satrap existed in the North West that was a province of Media, later called Atropatkan. Its governor Atropates, was a successful noble man and trader. Atropatkan was home to a very diverse community that included Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Persians and Jews and the capital city Ganzak (meaning “treasury” in old Median language) was built by the Achaemenids. The region stretched as far up as Azerbaijan and Armenia today. When Alexander the Great started his campaign of invasion into Persia, King Darius III fled to Atropatkan and Atropates hosted him and gave him refuge until he fled further to Bactria where he was assassinated by his own cousin. Alexander initially appointed Oxydates as satrap of Atropatkan, but later reappointed Atropates when he lost faith in the loyalties of Oxydates. Atropates practiced a quiet neutrality which made the province even more successful and desirable as gateway between Eastern and Western trade.

After Alexander’s death the province of Media was divided into two parts and the smaller North West region was again given to Atropates to rule. At some point thereafter, Atropates refused to convey allegiance to the diadochi and made his part of Media an independent kingdom. The dynasty Atropates founded would rule the kingdom for several centuries, at first either as an independent kingdom or as vassals of the Seleucids, then as vassals of the Arsacids/Parthians, into whose house they are said to have married. The dynasty even survived the Arab invasion after which Atropatkan became a vassal of the Rashidun Caliphate.

The capital of Atropatkan, Ganzak, was first almost entirely destroyed by the Romans/Byzantines and eventually totally during the Medieval Era. The great city that is said to once have hosted 3,000 homes was no more and with it all its history disappeared. To this day it is not clear where exactly the city was, but it is believed to have existed somewhere in the Miandoab plane in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, the same area that some archaeologists believe to have been the biblical garden of Eden. Even the name Azerbaijan is derived from Atropatkan. To this day the Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Jews and Persians still co-exist like they have for centuries and as such have greatly influenced each other's art that is produced in this area. Even after Azerbaijan and Armenia were no longer part of Iran, the same common thread still ran through the entire area and the carpets from the North West still quietly reflects its shared history in every village and every town.

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Arraiolos - The Portuguese Needlepoint Rugs

In the beautiful village of Arraiolos in the South of Portugal it is not uncommon to find ladies sitting at their doorsteps busy making needlepoint carpets. It is a craft that has been passed down from generation to generation and is ingrained in the culture of Arraiolos. The world-famous Arraiolos Stitch is a long-armed cross-stitch, the basis of the technique used in making these carpets. It is type of counted thread embroidery using wool thread on canvas which can be jute or linen.

Recently a monument was built paying homage to Arraiolos' needlewomen. The author of the monument justifies it: "(the embroiderers) patiently dominated the motifs of birds, flowers, medallions, geometrical bars, developing a decorative art that settled in the daily life of population. Carpets are intimately related to the way of life and sociability of Arraiolos providing unique moments of familiarity: we see groups of women sitting in the shade of the houses and walls, in the long and bright days, patiently embroidering rugs then installed in the interior of homes. The needlewomen are, still today, the foundation of a cultural circuit that connects the house to the street and Arraiolos to the rest of the world."

This famous Portuguese craft, however, was imported from Spain. There are no documents explaining the exact history but legend has it that the craft of embroidering carpets came with the Jews and Moors that were expelled by Queen Isabella from Spain. In 1492 she issued a decree by which all Jews and Moors were given three months to convert to Christianity or leave Spain. They were allowed to take their possessions with, but all gold, silver and coins were to be left in Spain. It therefore stands to reason that the Jews, who have been involved in making carpets for thousands of years, would use this skill to create an income in their new abode. Many Jews and Moors were given refuge by the Ottoman Empire who even sent ships to help them move, but some went West and landed in the beautiful village of Arraiolos. It is here were they taught the local citizens the art of embroidery and making carpets until 1511 when Portugal too expelled all Jews and Moors.

Since then the Portuguese needlewomen have continued this art, at first using the azulejo designs (a form painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework) and later developing their own designs.

Recently the largest Arraiolos carpet was completed. This project began in 2010 and ended over hundreds of working days and half a million stitches later. It is now in the collection of the National Museum Machado de Castro.

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When carpets were painted

In the late 19th century when archaeology became an organized science the paintings of Renaissance painters became much more important in the world of Oriental carpets. It was a period in which scientists and collectors alike took an interest into preserving Oriental carpets. All this started when Julius Lessing, a German art historian and the first director of the Berliner Kunstgewerbemuseum, wrote a book on Oriental carpet designs in 1871. He mainly used Renaissance paintings with Oriental carpets in it to compile this book, since collecting Oriental carpets did not yet exist.

In the late 19th century when archaeology became an organized science the paintings of Renaissance painters became much more important in the world of Oriental carpets. It was a period in which scientists and collectors alike took an interest into preserving Oriental carpets. All this started when Julius Lessing, a German art historian and the first director of the Berliner Kunstgewerbemuseum, wrote a book on Oriental carpet designs in 1871. He mainly used Renaissance paintings with Oriental carpets in it to compile this book, since collecting Oriental carpets did not yet exist.

The precise realism practiced by Renaissance artists during the 15th and 16th centuries resulted in them producing much more realistic paintings of the actual setting that they were painting. In those days it was only the Royals and Elite that could afford Oriental carpets and have their portraits painted in their finest dress surrounded by their valuables that naturally included their unique Oriental rugs. The painters’ precision showcased the carpets’ finest details that made it possible for Julius Lessing to date the carpets in his book. With the aid of these paintings and the knowledge of who painted it and when, he and his successors developed the “ante quem” method for dating Oriental carpets. It would be this work that would start the antique trade in Oriental carpets in earnest, since many people then realized that their family heirlooms was in fact much older and much more valuable than they knew.

Many famous painters used Oriental carpets in their paintings and due to the lack of classification of Oriental carpets in the Renaissance era, the specific type of carpets used by them was named after them. The more famous of these are: Holbein, Lotto, Memling, Bellini, Crivelli, Ghirlandaio, Van Eyck and Petrus Christus. As surviving pieces of these painters’ carpets were found, they were allocated the appropriate names based on where they were woven and by whom.

As is always the case it is the artists that preserve history for future generations and thanks to their art we can recollect how our ancestors lived and what was important to them.
By Vanessa Ghorbany

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The Mysterious Cintamani

From the 14th to 16th centuries there were white carpets produced in Turkey that is now called the Selendi carpets, because in that town an inventory from 1640 mentioning “white carpets with leopard design” was discovered. One particular group of the Selendi carpets is called the Cintamani carpets. The pattern repeated throughout the whole carpet is three circles grouped in a triangle floating on top of two wavy lines.

It was given the name Cintamani because some scholars have tried to link the design with the three stones of Buddha, since the Ottoman Empire had strong trading links with the East and it would make some sense to assume that the rug weavers of old might have found the symbol appealing. So popular was this design that it was used in the garments of the elite and the Royal courts of the Ottoman Empire. Many Cintamani carpets were commissioned by the Sultans and the rule of thumb is that if the three circles were placed on top of the wavy lines, it was a Royal Ottoman carpet. If the three circles were placed under the wavy lines it was a normal Anatolian carpet. Naturally the Royal commissions had a higher value.

The three circles grouped in a triangle is indeed a very sacred symbol in Buddhism. According to legend the “mani stone” is one of four relics that came in a chest that fell from the sky during the reign of king Lha Thothori Nyantsen of Tibet. Though the king did not understand the purpose of the objects, he kept them in a position of reverence. Several years later, two mysterious strangers appeared at the court of the king, explaining the four relics, which included the Buddha's bowl (possibly a Singing Bowl) and a mani stone with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra inscribed on it. These few objects were the bringers of the Dharma to Tibet. The Buddhist trinity consist of Buddha, Dharma and Shangha and these three states are represented by the three circles grouped in a triangle.

We find legends of three sacred treasures in many civilizations, believed to be given by the gods or representing the gods. The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan for instance, consist of the sword Kusanagi, the mirror Yata no Kagami and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama. The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel). It is believed that the Emperor was chosen by god and given these three treasures to safeguard him and ensure his success as ruler. What is interesting here is that the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for the star, Sirius, closely resembles these three objects, being an obelisk (sword), a half circle (mirror) and a star (jewel). Sirius is the brightest star in our night sky and it disappears every year for seventy days, but reappears just before the summer solstice and annual flooding of the Nile. Due to this occurrence, Sirius’s appearance was very important to the Ancient Egyptians who worshipped Sirius as the goddess Sopdet, the goddess of fertility.

The sacred or holy trinity is no stranger in the world. From the holy trinity in the Semitic religions to the three physical stages of life (represented by the spiral of life that looks quite similar to the cintamani), the body, mind and soul concepts, the mother, father, child trinity and even the electron, neutron and proton trinity. It is quite interesting that Memling, a German painter in the 15th century, painted Christ with a cintamani amulet around his neck. But the cintamani was also used in art in other civilizations in the world. The Etruscans, Romans, Greeks and even Mesoamericans used the cintamani design to decorate their textiles, arts, pottery, etc. centuries BC.

The cintamani seems to have been a universal symbol used by everyone and was again made popular in 1935 by Nicholas Roerich who proposed the symbol for the banner of peace that was accepted as an international pact for the protection of culture values. The Banner proposed had on the white background three united amaranth spheres as a symbol of Eternity and Unity that very closely resembles the cintamani. On further investigation, the Amaranth seeds was of utmost importance to the Mesoamericans as their staple food and source of energy. Another important use of amaranth throughout Mesoamerica was to prepare ritual drinks and foods. To this day, amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses, or chocolate to make a treat called alegría, meaning "joy" in Spanish. Because of its importance as a symbol of indigenous culture, its gluten-free palatability, ease of cooking, and a protein that is particularly well-suited to human nutritional needs, interest in grain amaranth revived in the 1970s. The seeds, leaves, stems and roots of the Amaranth is edible and even the flowers were used as a red dye by the Hopi Indians. From antiquity the amaranth plant was linked to immortality because it is an unwilting plant. In ancient Greece, the amaranth was sacred to Ephesian Artemis. It allegedly had special healing properties, and, as a symbol of immortality, was used to decorate images of the gods and tombs. The Chinese used amaranth widely for its healing chemicals, treating illnesses such as infections, rashes, and migraines. There is even some talk that it grew in the Garden of Eden next to the Tree of Life. And so the list of its fame and uses goes on.

Whether the cintamani is an ancient religious symbol or linked to the immortal amaranth we will never know for sure, since there is not a lot of information available on the creation of the symbol. It has somehow captured our imagination through the ages and has almost a calming effect, with three being a holy number. It certainly makes for very attractive carpets and textiles.

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The Swedish Rollakan and Rya

The Nordic is notorious for its harsh weather conditions and excruciating, almost everlasting winters. The inhabitants needed to make clothes and built homes that could keep them warm and the Viking traders found the perfect insulation tool in the Persian carpets made in the East. Not only were they beautiful but they provided necessary heat in the form of wall hangings, floor covers and even bed spreads/blankets.

Up to the 12th century a magnitude of Persian carpets made its way to the Scandinavian countries, but from there on the Swedish developed their own techniques in weaving carpets for domestic use. At first they wove kilims, called Rollakans, that mimicked the Oriental designs, but with limited dyes available, it was mostly woven in white, black and grey, the natural tones of sheep wool. Later on, another technique was developed, called Rya, or as we know it today, the shaggy rug. Using knots taught to them by their Eastern trading partners, the Swedish developed their own style of piled carpets. They were warmer than their Oriental cousins and could also be used on the walls, floors and especially as bed covers. Some were even worn as coats. It became a versatile domestic item, a blanket at night and a floor covering during the day.

For the seafaring Vikings the Ryas were priceless items at sea, because even when it got wet, it still provided the necessary heat. Ryas formed part of the trousseau of eligible ladies to be wed and not only formed part of the marriage ceremony but also reflected the initials of the bride and groom, the date of the wedding, a set of double hearts, and symbols and signs that represented the groom’s and the bride’s families. Wedding Ryas were extremely important, and perhaps represent the most distinct development in Scandinavian rug-making. Oriental themes were incorporated into the finest Scandinavian rugs, with the Tree of Life motif featuring most prominently. A standby in Persian rugs, the Tree of Life symbol was adapted by the rug-makers of Scandinavia to represent family trees and ties.

Today the Rollakan and Rya rugs from Sweden is still very popular with many artists designing exquisite geometric and colourful designs.

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