Turkish Motfifs - What do all those patterns actually mean ?

Posted by Briana Anabtawi on

Every carpet, with its patterns, resembles a collection of messages, beliefs and symbols. They are declarations of a wish, on which all expectations are enshrined. Every patterns that is woven onto a carpet is a picture of feeling, a desire or a wish. So far as that every carpet represents a living history from the early ages to the present in which women have patiently and untiringly written their joys and sorrows in amazing codes and magic letters which are to be read line by line. They contain voices of birds, voices of children, gently blowing spring winds, flowers, leaves, branches, figures, whims, wishes and rebukes. An expectation of news by a bird with four wings and heads, but the language of these symbols has not been fully decoded to our day.

As well as being one of the most indispensable interior decoration goods, carpet has long been a precious gift item, migration on the roots of conquest and trade, carrying its patterns from one place to another and this magic work of craft has finally traveled through the ages to our times with its colors, symbol-language and with all its beauty becoming a subject of "flying carpet" tales.

Like the epic of Elbruz mountain ( a mythical mountain believed to surround the world binding the horizon on all sides- translator ), the location of the holly fire which burnt the heart of Prometheus and which is also frequently mentioned in the tales of 1001 nights, life stories and holly narratives have been using colors and language of violets, roses hyacinths and spring flowers. The so called water of life which made people immortal was also hidden somewhere behind mountains. People looked for it in vain it was not found. Therefore , human beings failed to achieve immortality. The mythical bird of Phoenix also built its nest behind these mountains. There were also giants and dragons which embraced the universe. This old fairy tale was woven into colorful Caucasian carpets depicting an eagle and snake. The theme was also adapted prayer rugs and even woven into socks heads carves in the hands of women and girls.

Like yellow narcissus and ovidius, symbolizing hopeless love, today's Anatolian people still attribute countless meanings to flowers and narrate their day-today emotions in this way. An engaged girl preparing for marriage , expresses her love and happiness by putting a pink hyacinth motif in her lace and weaving into a carpet. Purple hyacinth denotes melancholy, white hyacinth denotes, loyalty, poppy flower denotes spring, tulip carnation denotes love and peace, clover violet denotes luck, fertility and paradise. All symbols become the young women's language.

These masterpieces of art, decorated with all the colors of nature, with embroideries and motifs, have migrated over the centuries from one country to another and from one district to another, undergoing an interaction with local cultures on the way. That's why it is quite normal encounter surprising results in the course of studying the origins of particular motifs. While, at the same time observing in amazement how patterns, which are similar to the motifs of Anatolian origin, dating as far as back 3000 BC have been woven into Turkish carpets, one comes across certain motifs of the Pazyryk carpet found also on Seljuk bowls.

However, any attempt to determine the origins of motifs as a whole consisting of all these symbols, and to study the different origin, which have overlapped in the course of their history, has understandably become a problem as complicated as untangling the complex of beliefs. Human beings, in the course of their own development over thousands of years, have reshaped their carpets, motifs and embroidery from one generation to another. Today's women still weave their carpets in the same frame of mind and emotions, but they no longer know the origins of these mysterious patterns and motifs. They continue this long artistic and historical adventure by attributing them with new names and meaning relating to their present lives. 

Hence the very limited number of old carpets. However, the Pazyryk carpet is an enormous exception due to coincidence mentioned above. This carpet, which amazed the world of archaeology and arts, has been preserved in its original state for nearly 2500 years and has reached our time due to the fact that the water which filled the tomb turned into ice. Its year of manufacture and origin has been a matter of debate among experts. It has been claimed to be of Iskit or Hun origin lately. Hun origin idea has been accepted.

Dimensions of this carpet, which is estimated to have been woven between the 5th - 3th centuries B.C. are 2.00 x 1.85 m. Its warp and weft as well as knots are all wool. It was woven using double knot method with 36 double knots to square centimeter. In addition to its highly superior weaving technique, it has a historical character. This carpet of extraordinary fineness and superior quality, has such motifs that reveal cultural manifestations of a typical nomadic or semi- nomadic society. Named after its location, this carpet is known as the Pazyryk carpet and is exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (Leningrad).


Carpet, being an invention of nomads, was an important means created the cold ground which was an important problem when the tent was erected. It was laid down to avoid stepping on bare ground in the tent. Hides were used in its place before, however they were easily worn out. A final solution to keep out the cold could only the use of a very strong and durable material. Therefore, a softer, thicker and more durable item, which would retain warmth better and also double up as a bed or duvet, was needed. Kilim was in use much earlier, but it was insufficient at keeping out of the cold and damp from the ground. It was primarily used as a cover on cradles or hung in the middle of the tent as a partition. Priscus, a member of the delegation sent by Byzantium to West Hun Emperor Attila, wrote that a carpet was laid before his seat in the tent and told that his bed was segregated from the room by an embroidered linen. Different functions performed by carpet and kilim are, therefore, evident.

The first carpets were woven with wool knots on wool warp. At the beginning, the ends of knots (pile) must have been left uncut. In this way, a long dense and thick surface could be obtained, and this thick layer of wool could ensure protection against the cold in cold areas where winters were harsh. This new weaving technique, developed as knots on double warp threads by making use of the kilim weaving technique, evolved as the carpet that we know today. The single knot system, on the other hand, did not become very popular among nomads. The most important thing for nomads was the durability of the goods. For they could not find the raw material required for producing a new carpet whenever they needed it and whenever they want, if the old one become unusable and had to be replaced. Lambs could not be sheared in winter to obtain wool for weaving carpet; it had to wait until spring. Consequently, a new carpet could not be woven at any time of the year.

Therefore, to avoid such an unexpected problem, nomads has to produce reliable and long lasting goods. That is how they have the double knot technique (also known as Gördes-Gordion knot) which considerably increased the strength of the carpet.

Turkish carpets are named after each district which respectively have their own individual designs and characteristics reflected on each carpet. These carpets which are usually woven on looms at high planes and villages have standard sizes. With a difference of a few centimeters, they are usually woven in sizes of 60 x 100, 90 x 135, 130 x 200, 150 x 200 or 200 x 300 cm. But they may also come in larger and different sizes. However, it is almost impossible to find a carpet in very specific size. Also some carpets are very rarely available or not available at all, in any size other than its standard size. Since these carpets are usually geared for their weavers, it is impossible to find nomadic carpet in very large sizes (exceeding the ground size of a tent). Today there are about 300.000.carpet looms in Turkey, producing annually an average aggregate sum of 4.500.000.m2 of carpets.

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