Where: The ‘turkish’ style carpet is sold throughout the middle east & North African countries like Turkey, Egypt & Morocco
What’s in store: Hustler’s, mint tea, and a zillion rugs and carpets to eyeball, keep a few hours free
Best Buy: Traders are safer in Istanbul’s covered market. Smaller towns offer rug lovers a more hassle free buy. Go for the authentic hand weave for a classic carpet.
Carpet weaving has been common practice in Turkey since time immemorial, and the oldest examples date as far back as the 4th century BC. For the nomads of Central Asia, carpets were portable, practical, beautiful furniture upon which the household would perform a range of social and ceremonial functions, such as receiving guests, praying and marriage.
Since Turkish rugs became all the rage in Europe in the 19th century, travellers to Turkey habitually hunt out the best bargains at the markets and bazaars in all the major cities. There’s a fantastic array of different patterns and techniques on offer: as well as traditional pile carpets, you can find flat-woven kilims, colourful Sumaks, intricate Cicims – all painstakingly woven according to traditional methods handed down through the generations.
Rugs were traditionally made by women, who weaved a piece of their own personality into the pattern. They were intended for use by the family or as a dowry and as a woman knew she would be judged by her handiwork, a great deal of care went into the process.
These days, carpet making is a much more a commercial enterprise. Although local women still manufacture the carpets, the style and pattern are usually dictated by the customer’s preferences rather than the whim of the artisan.
Where To Bag a Bargain
Wherever you go in Turkey, you’ll be dazzled by the astounding displays of beautiful carpets for sale. But before you buy, beware: the market is extremely competitive and there are some unscrupulous rug dealers about. You’ll undoubtedly encounter some hard-sell tactics, but if you shop about you’re much more likely to pick up a bargain.
The carpet sellers in Istanbul’s Covered Market are the most knowledgeable about their trade. They’ve been in the business the longest and are less pushy than traders in other parts of the city. At the state run carpet shop in the Hasek Hurrem Hamami district the prices are fixed but quality is assured. Even if you’d rather haggle, it’s worth a visit to get an idea of how much you should be prepared to pay.
If you’re heading to Cappadocia, it may be a good idea to buy your carpet here. You’ll get a lot less hassle here than in the capital, and there’s still an enormous range to choose from.
How to Spot a Good Buy
If you’ve never bought a rug before, take time to mug up on a few basic rules to avoid getting taken for a ride:
Top quality rugs are 100% wool, or a blend of wool and silk. Your rug will last longer if there’s still natural oil in the wool. Cheaper carpets may be made of cotton, and you can check by examining the fringes on the edge of the carpet.
You can tell a new rug by it’s tight knots. Old or poor quality examples have a baggier weave, and cheap mass-produced rugs are less finely finished. Incredibly, experts are able to tell from the height and depth of the knot, the type of wool and the weave pattern, precisely which village or tribe a rug originated from.
Compare the colours on the top and reverse of the rug. Richer colours on the underside may indicate that it has faded with age. Moreover, chemical dyes fade more readily than natural dyes, and although there’s nothing really wrong with chemical colours, natural pigments command a higher price.
What’s it Worth?
Depending on your budget, you could spend anything from $40 to $4000 on a rug. Remember, though, that haggling is the norm in Turkey, and it’s usual to bargain a bit before settling on a mutually acceptable price. Stall owners will often ply you with mint tea and hospitality to have you spend longer inspecting their wares. Be aware, though, that if you employ the services of a guide to assist you in your purchase it’s likely that their commission will be included in the price you pay.
Return to Tradition : The Revitalization of Turkish Village Carpets
by June Anderson; University of Washington Press 1998
If you’d like a rug but can’t make it to Turkey, get yours at turkishrugs.com!
By Jess Halliday