Saturday, 22 August 2009

Russia And The History Of Caucasian Carpets

MOSCOW, September 5, 2009 -- The only western nation ever to incorporate a major rug producing region of the east within its borders is Russia.

In fact, Russia incorporated two: the Caucasus and Central Asia. And the experience had not only a dramatic effect on the international rug market and Russian culture but a nearly fatal effect on the carpet producing cultures themselves.

The first region to be incorporated was the Caucasus.

The photo at the top of the page is a detail from an antique Shirvan carpet from the Caucasus. The carpet is available to collectors from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

In the 1700s, the Russian Empire began moving into the Caucasus and by 1830, after wars with Turkey and Iran, it was in control of ‘Transcaucasia’ -- the area on the other side of the Caucasus mountain chain from Russia (today's Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia).

The conquest of the North Caucasus -- directly bordering Russia proper and including Chechnya and Daghestan -- took considerably longer. It involved continual battles and suppressions known in Russia as the Caucasian Wars, which lasted from 1817 to 1864. Unlike in Transcaucasia, it also involved the mass expulsion of peoples – hundreds of thousands of Circassians – to Turkey to clear the way for Russian settlement.

By a strange coincidence of history, Russia’s move into this ancient and mountainous region, with its myriad cultures, happened at a time when Romanticism was at its height in Europe. So, despite the grim realities of subjugating fiercely independent peoples, the experience set off a wave of “Orientalist” Romanticism in Russia not unlike that epitomized by Byron in Britain.

What did Russian “Orientalism” look like?

A good summary is provided by Russian researcher Oleg Semenov in an article entitled “Oriental Carpets and Russian Interiors in the 19th Century” ('Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies,' Part 1, 1987).

He notes that “to Russians, the Caucasus was a mysterious country, the symbol of a free and natural life, dear to the young and romantic. One recalls the heroes of Pushkin, Lermontov, or even of Tolstoy’s 'Cossacks.'”

The new fascination with the east could be seen in everything from literature to interior decorating. The Caucasus offered a new, larger-than-life stage for young Russians and they seized the opportunity to break with the restrained fashion of their parents – Classicism – and idealize spontaneity, instead.

At home, the French Classicist style of spacious interiors with highly polished floors, symmetrically arranged furniture, and European Savonnerie carpets, was out. The new look, making heavy use of the Caucasian carpets and other art objects flowing back as war booty, was restive, tousled, and exuberant.

“Now the oriental carpet draped the wall or served to display weapons,” writes Semonov.

“Often there was a special divan, smoking room or a bathroom in the men’s part of the house, in which all furnishings were oriental in style. Here it was possible to hang a large carpet on the walls, and to use one to cover a wide ‘Turkish’ divan. Caucasian weapons, hookahs, chibouks (wooden pipes), brass jugs, and low tables with engraved trays embellished the furnishings. The international character of Classicism gave way to a choice of items which created a stylistically solid ‘Oriental’ image for a specific room.”

The displays of carpets and weapons from the Caucasus went along with a cult of gallantry that idealized the individual bravery of Eastern warriors in battle compared to the already ruthlessly efficient organization of Western armies. The cult itself was a holdover from the Napoleonic wars, when officers still sought to distinguish themselves as a warrior class from the growing use of masses of conscripts that marks the beginning of modern warfare.

The model of romantic gallantry, along with the knowledge that it was doomed in the modern age, was exemplified by the book 'A Hero of Our Time' in 1839 by Mikhail Lermontov (shown here).

The hero of the story, a duelist and an immoralist was, in fact, an anti-hero in the full sense of the word who outraged the literary critics of the day. But he was Byronic in his fierce individualism, and he saved his contempt not for the mountain warriors, whom he fought but admired, but for modern society around him. (Lermontov himself, dubbed the “poet of the Caucasus,’ was killed in a duel shortly after his only novel was published. He was 27.)

All this may help explain how the carpets and other material culture of the Caucasus could come into Russian homes on equal terms with Western furnishings even as the people who made them were being subjugated.

This 1894 picture of “Horsemen of the Caucasus” is by Russian artist Franz Alekseyevich Roubaud (1856 - 1928), who was famous for panoramic paintings.

Carpets from the Caucasus remained largely unknown in Western European homes until much later: almost the end of the 19th century.

The reason was the Russian Empire’s protectionist policy of favoring domestic trade over foreign trade.

At one point, merchants trying to export carpets and other goods through Russia’s main Black Sea port of Odessa were required to deposit with authorities a sum double that of the product’s estimated value. The sum would only be reimbursed once the contents of the bales were verified at the port. That imposed impossible capital requirements on the would-be exporters.

At another point, Moscow required that all products for export from the Caucasus be routed first to Tbilisi for customs clearance and tax assessment, whether or not it was the shortest route to market. That too, discouraged foreign trade. (These measures were noted by the French traveler Xavier Hommaire De Hell, who visited the region in 1847.)

As Richard E Wright and John T Wertime, note in their 1995 book ‘Caucasian Carpets & Covers,’ even as late as 1852 the number of rugs and related textiles exported from the Russian Empire was negligible.

But that situation changed in the following decades, as new political and social changes swept Russia.

This time a major part of the story was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. The freed serfs, who represented slightly less than half of all peasants, were allocated land but in fact often did not get not enough to make ends meet. So, the government launched a program dubbed “Kustar” (Russian for ‘Artisan’) to encourage peasants across the empire to produce handicrafts to supplement their agricultural earnings.

In the Caucasus, the Kustar program sought to dramatically boost home weaving by providing villagers with wool and patterns and taking care of sales. The target was the booming market for Caucasian carpets in Russia and then, as Tsarist officials began encouraging foreign trade, exports to the two great carpet trading centers of the time: Istanbul and London.

The export efforts got a further, huge boost in the 1880s with the completion of the Trans-Caucasus railroad and soon tons of carpets were moving toward Russia’s Black Sea ports.

By the beginning of the 1880s, Europe began to be aware of Caucasian carpets, say Wright and Wertime. The carpets got full exposure at the Paris World Fair (Exposition Universelle) in 1878 and they became a popular addition to Victorian-era homes.

Semenov offers some figures to show how suddenly exports of carpets from Russia exploded.

“Carpet making, which had been a craft, in the second half of the 19th century developed into a marketable branch of manufacture,” he writes.

“Russia became not only one of the most important consumer countries but also a major exporter of Oriental carpets. In 1873 carpet exports from the Russian Empire amounted to 12,914 puds (1 pud = 16 kg) valued at 922,917 rubles; by 1874 they had grown to 17,781 puds at a value of 964,675 rubles.”

He continues: “The volume of exported carpets continued to increase until the outbreak of World War I. The major proportion exported – 90 to 94 percent – was of the more expensive Caucasian carpets, while cheaper Central Asian rugs were mostly brought in for the home market.”

Unfortunately, the story does not end there.

With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Russian civil war, and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922, Russian society again changed on an epic scale. And the effects were nearly fatal for the carpet producers at both the village and manufactory level.

White Russians poured out of the country after losing the civil war and many of them brought their valuables, including carpets, with them for sale. Istanbul’s grand bazaar was suddenly overloaded with the same carpets that had furnished Russia's 'Orientalist' interiors of the Tsarist era and many of these now flowed West in a booming business.

But in now communist Russia, the carpet market was finished. Luxury goods were to be despised, even if they were secretly collected, and interior design styles conformed to the new rules.

Semenov, writing during the last decade of the Soviet Union, describes the new mood as a return to more austere and rational style. And perhaps reflecting his times, he approvingly contrasts modernism with the luxurious disorder of the 19th century, when people “scattered carpets over the divans, arms-chairs, walls, and floors."

“Such an abundance of carpets exerted an aggressive influence on the interior’s creator, leaving him no room to think or speak. The carpets, as it were, ‘swaddled’ him, ‘wrapped him up’ from all sides. Their bright colors, unhurried rhythms of design, and originality of texture allowed him only a limited emotional range of somewhat passive, lethargic, stylistically ‘Oriental,’ moods. On one level, harmony between the house owner and his actions gave way to languor and comfort, but beneath the surface subjected him to stress and drama; an intrinsic conflict between the individualistic, subjective man and the habitat he had created. The carpet was no longer a treasure, but a luxury object and this resulted in economic, aesthetic, psychological and even moral and ethical consequences.”

Soviet officials may have had little use for the Tsarist era's love of carpets, but they did not put an immediate end to the Kustar program. The state continued to support carpet weaving as an export commodity.

However, the support shifted from helping weavers who worked at home, and mostly used patterns traditional to their areas, to funding of manufactories receiving and fulfilling orders on a central-planning basis.

The result was that orders for rug with patterns long identified with one region of the Caucasus were routinely given to weaving centers in other regions with very different local traditions. The weavers made mistakes. And over time the sense of unique origin and local lineages that gave Caucasian rugs a special cachet in the Western market eroded away.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Western interest in the region’s weaving has revived. But it is still an open question whether carpet making in the Caucasus -- after so many decades of neglect -- can eventually return to its once famous heights. (For more, read: Can Caucasian Carpets Make A Comeback In The Caucasus?)

(Photos top to bottom: Detail of Shirvan carpet, late 19th C; Lithograph of Mt. Elberus, the highest peak in the Caucasus range; Russian interior, men’s study, 1880s; Mikhail Lermontov, portrait; "Horsemen of the Caucasus" by F.A. Roubaud; Kustar pattern for Derbent rug, 19th C; Russian Pavilion, Paris World’s Fair 1878; Bolshevik poster “You … Have you signed up as a volunteer?”; Intourist travel poster for Caucasus.)




Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Silk Road, The Camel, And Oriental Carpets

PRAGUE, August 22, 2009 -- Could the Silk Roads have existed without camels?

After all, for thousands of years before and during the Silk Roads the wheel also existed across all of Eurasia, and wagons were used to carry heavy goods for long distances

The Central Asian nomads, for example, commonly used wagons to transport their possession across the steppes and at times even put their yurts – their round, rigid tents – on wheels to transport them.

And at both the Eastern end of the Silk Roads in China and the Western end in the Middle East, the countryside was teeming with on- and off-road wheeled vehicles of all kinds, from horse drawn chariots to carts to wagons.

The answer to why, despite this, the Silk Roads became entirely camel-driven can be found in a fascinating book by historian Richard W. Bulliet. The book is ‘The Camel and the Wheel’ (1975).

Bulliet explains how the camel, which became a transport animal long after the horse, proved so efficient for moving cargo that it not only made the Silk Roads possible it also completely replaced the use of wagons across a vast swath of the Middle East, from central Turkey to North Africa.

Here is a Chinese scroll painting from 1280 by Liu Kuan-tao showing a camel caravan carrying carpets in the background of a scene of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan hunting. For a close up: click here

What were a camel’s advantages over wheeled vehicles?

For one, a camel can match horse or ox-drawn wagons for load and speed. A camel can carry 300 to 500 pounds on its back and, walking at speed of two and-a-half miles an hour, travel 20 miles a day.

But where wagons are expensive to build and operate, a camel is relatively cost-free.

Its saddle requires little wood, which is a valuable commodity in arid parts of the world.

And unlike horses and oxen, camels don’t need special fodder or much water. They can eat desert plants and – when unburdened – go as much as two weeks without a drink of water. And when they do drink, they fill up fast, at the rate of 28 gallons in 10 minutes.

Best of all, once a camel drinks water, he does not lose it again quickly – thanks to an amazing physiology. A camel’s feces are dry and its urine viscous. It sweats only after first tolerating a rise in its body temperature of a full 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And when it does start perspiring, it can survive a water loss of up to one-third of its body weight, then drink again and continue on its way.

All these factors made camel caravans incredibly cost-effective for overland travel.

Bulliet writes that the Romans, for example, estimated camel transport was about 20 percent cheaper than wagon transport, according to an edict on prices issued by Emperor Diocletian in the third century AD.

And it's interesting to note that once the cost-effective camel, supplemented by donkeys for lighter loads, displaced the wheel in the Middle East, the wheel did not return again until the age of the automobile.

A French traveler, Volney, observed in the 1780’s that “"It is remarkable that in all of Syria one does not see a single cart or wagon."

Bulliet says that the evidence of that total displacement of wagons can still be seen today in the patterns of the narrow streets in the historic old quarters of many towns:

“Although camels themselves were not too widely used within the walls of medieval towns, it was they who caused the tradition of wheeled transport to vanish; and it is the absence of carts and wagons that accounts in large part for the layout of medieval Middle Eastern cities,” he writes.

On the Silk Roads, two-humped camels were used from China through Central Asia and one-humped camels were used in the Middle East.

At either end, the physical challenges for the camel caravans that trekked across the vast distances involved were staggering.

Many historians like to describe the journey as equivalent to crossing an ocean – an ocean which stretched across almost the entire width of Eurasia.

There were caravansarais in accessible areas where the camels and merchants could rest, sometimes even at the end of each days’ journey. But there also were inaccessible areas that had to be crossed at risk of life and limb for days at a stretch.

Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler of the 13th century, provides vivid descriptions of some of the dangers in the account of his travels from Venice to the court of Kublai Khan in Khanbalik (modern Beijing):

* The Pamirs -- From here, one travels three days east, always climbing, until you reach gigantic mountains which are said to be the highest in the world.

* Taklamakan Desert – Those who venture here must take great care not to become separated from the others … because if they lose contact with their fellow travelers, they will only find their friends again with great difficulty, for all around them arise other voices which seem to call their names. From such hallucinations, many who cross (these singing sands) perish.

* Che-Si Corridor, near Kanju, China – Travelers do not dare to enter these mountains with any animals … because here a certain plant grows which is so poisonous that any animal who eats it is lost.

As Bulliet points out, a camel easily outperforms any other beast of burden in such in extreme places because, in fact, such places are its natural habitat.

For eons, the camel’s survival strategy has been to safeguard itself from predators by staying away from them. Over the course of its evolution, it deliberately abandoned the grasslands for the desert, where most predators cannot stand the extremes of heat and drought. And in this way, though it is totally defenseless and usually moves slowly, it has thrived.

Man originally domesticated the camel for milk and food. But those uses are negligible compared to the possibilities it offered as a pack-animal for long-distance travel and, ultimately, cross-continental caravans.

The caravans of the Silk Roads could involve hundreds of camels at once, with a combined carrying capacity equivalent to a sea-going ship of their time. They were highly organized and carried not just goods but paying passengers along regular and established routes.

A detailed idea of how they worked can be had from accounts as recent as the 1920’s, when camel caravans were still common in China’s eastern Xinjiang region – once a major crossroads of the Silk Roads.

This description comes from Owen Lattimore, who chronicled his travels with a caravan in his book 'Desert Road to Turkestan' (1929):

“A caravan could consist of 150 or so camels (8 or more files), with a camel-puller for each file. Besides the camel-pullers the caravan would also include a xiansheng (literally, "Sir" or "Mister," who was typically an older man with a long experience as a camel-puller, now playing the role of a general manager), one or two cooks, and the caravan master, whose authority over the caravan and its people was as absolute as that of a captain on a sea ship. If the owner of the caravan did not travel with the caravan himself, he would send along a supercargo - the person who will take care of the disposal of the freight upon arrival, but had no say during the travel. The caravan could carry a number of paying passengers as well, who would alternate between riding on top of a camel load and walking.”

The bonds that the camel handlers formed with their beasts can still be seen in traditions that remain strong in some places today.

One is the sport of camel fighting – a sport which, unlike many animal fights, was developed to entertain spectators while minimizing the danger for the camels, which were too valuable to put at risk.

The picture here of a camel fight is from 1585, painted by Abd as-Samad in Mughal India.

Camel fights still draw crowds of camel devotees in Turkey in the winter, which is the camel’s mating season and the time when males will try to knock each other down to win the females’ attention.

The battles are not unlike Sumo matches.

To start, specially bred camels weighing as much as a ton are led toward each other. Sometimes, one will run away just at the sight of the other. Usually, they crash into each other and then begin a shoulder-to-shoulder shoving match.

Injuries are rare because the camels, which usually hurt each other by biting, have their mouths tied shut. But the camels are full of tricks with their front legs and long necks, which they use to trip each other in skillful ways.

The fight ends when one camel flees, neighs out a call of surrender, or falls. The action, which can be hard to follow, is breathlessly called out play-by-play by a sports announcer.

Camel wrestling devotees in Turkey trace the sport back to the nomadic and caravan days of the region. The matches are spectacles that involve whole towns, with the camels paraded through the streets beforehand decked in mirrored blankets, bells, and colorful pompoms and accompanied by drummers and folk dancers.

Curiously, in a strange nod to the camel populations of both the Silk Roads’ eastern and western ends, the best fighting camels in Turkey are bred by mating a female camel with a single hump with a male camel with double humps.

What kind of prizes are at stake? From the sport’s earliest origins until today, that has never been in question. There is money to be made by betting, of course, but the symbol of victory that is awarded to the winner by the organizers is a carpet.

These days, the carpet is usually machine-made and of little value. But the practice recalls a time when, centuries ago on the Silk Roads, carpets were as much a form of currency as money.

(Illustrations from top to bottom: Tang dynasty terra-cotta camels, 618-907AD; Silk scroll painting of Kublai Khan Hunting by Liu Kuan-tao, 13th century; detail of camel carrying carpet from Liu Kuan-tao’s scroll; map of major Silk Road routes; NASA satellite image of Taklamakan desert; Bas relief, camel, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice; Mughal painting, 1585; Camel match, Selcuk, Turkey, 2000.)

Related Links:

Richard W. Bulliet: Why They Lost the Wheel, Saudi Aramco World, 1972

Stephen Kinzer, New York Times: On a Winter's Weekend in Turkey, The Camel Fight Is the Place to Be




Thursday, 6 August 2009

Istanbul: When The Grand Bazaar Was The Center Of The Ottoman World

ISTANBUL, August 15, 2009 – For centuries, the world greatest emporium for buying carpets was Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

And, specifically, the address was the Grand Bazaar, the richest and most popular shopping palace in the city.

The Grand Bazaar was the biggest terminus of the Silk Roads that moved west across Eurasia and it was to here that carpets and luxury goods of every kind flowed.

The Ottoman Empire itself, one of the world’s largest empires from its founding in the 14th century to its decline beginning in the 18th, was the biggest customer. But merchants from all over Europe also came to buy the goods wholesale and take them home for resale.

What could you find in the Grand Bazaar? What couldn’t you find in the Grand Bazaar!

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.

The carpets were sold in the Grand Bazaar along with rich silk and brocaded fabrics, precious stones, gold, silver, pearls, shoes, books, and jewel-encrusted weapons. The value of the goods was reflected in the rent merchants paid to occupy a space in the bazaar: many times more than for anywhere else in the city. And the bazaar extended through miles and miles of covered, labyrinthine lanes.

The story of the Grand Bazaar is told in a book of the same name written by the late Celik Gulersoy in 1980.

Gulersoy, a leading historical preservationist, conjures up the atmosphere of the bazaar in the Ottoman era through the impressions of Turkish and European writers of the time.

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?’”

That is a very different image than the bazaar of today, where hustling a customer is the rule. But the Ottoman bazaar was a very different place before Turkey modernized at the turn-of-the-last century.

The traditional arrangement was for the traders to line both sides of the bazaar’s covered streets. Not standing in the doorway of walk-in shops like today, but sitting on divans with nothing behind them but a large cabinet or a set of shelves. The cabinets, fixed to the walls, showcased some of their wares and hid the rest.

“The space occupied by any one of these tradesmen was generally small, about six to eight feet in length,” Gulersoy says. “In the bazaar jargon, these were known as ‘dolap’(stalls) and they had a depth of about three to four feet. Sometimes they were separated by thin curtains or wooden latticework partitions. It was possible for the customer to sit on the divan next to the tradesman and examine his choice while conversing in an easy, comfortable manner and drinking coffee or smoking a ‘long pipe.’”

At night, the cabinets were closed up.

Why did the merchants favor this open-street arrangement for the bazaar?

One reason, says Gulersoy, was “the old traditional practice of women covering their faces in the presence of men. There was a need to prevent women from having to enter closed places where there were men. There was a tendency to resolve all social matters out in the open.” He adds that “the custom was that all the shopkeepers, Muslim and non-Muslim, sit on their benches quietly and only answer when the customer directs as question at them.”

The Ottoman Grand Bazaar was not just the richest shopping center in Istanbul, it was in many ways its economic heart.

Its core, two separate covered markets called the Inner and Outer Bedestan, was built by Mehmet soon after he conquered Constantinople in 1453. Over the following years, the streets between the two covered bazaars were covered over, too, along with the surrounding streets, creating a covered city.

This covered city was not just a marketplace but a bank, too. The Inner Bedestan, built with walls 1.5 meters thick that stand to this day, was Istanbul’s 'coffre fort' where the richest citizens could keep their valuables in security. The Inner Bedestan also had the city’s wealthiest merchants, who lent money at interest for business ventures and themselves might own trading ships or major shares in camel caravans.

When sultans wanted to impress the citizenry with the Ottoman Empire’s wealth, or celebrate special occasions, they would sometimes call out the Grand Bazaar's merchants to parade in public. One Turkish observer of such a parade, Evilya Celebi, wrote this account in the early 1600s:

“Sultan Murad IV, before the Baghdad campaign in the year of the Hagira 1048, summoned the authorities to his audience chamber and said, ‘If I conquer the city of Baghdad in this expedition, I want all the soldiers and shop owners of Istanbul, according to the old regulations, with their guild wardens, sages, sheiks, stewards, Aghas, guild caretakers, and guards, to parade in front of Alay Kosku (a pavilion not far from the Grand Bazaar formerly used by the sultans to watch parades) both on foot and horseback, in groups, with eight military bands playing. Take down all these instructions correctly. Those who supply false information, I will cut in four.”

Celibi then describes the merchants as they march with their wares. Some of them ride on carriages decked out like parade floats:

Carpet dealers – 40 shops and 111 men. They parade with their 'mounted shops' adorned with Thessaloniki, Ushak, Kula, Egyptian, and Isfahan rugs.

Silken Robes of Honor dealers – 5 shops and 105 people. This guild joins the parade weaving the seven types of the Royal Robes of Honor and adorning the robes.

Not just the merchants and craftsmen parade, so do the hundreds of officials and employees of the bazaar:

The Trade Watchmen of the Inner Bedestan – 70 persons. The head of these is the second officer of the Sultan’s black eunuchs. These are all guaranteed people, devout Muslims who light the oil lamps in the Market Hall … when their post is vacated … the vacancy is filled by one of the Bedestan porters who is worthy of the post.

The Porters of the Inner Bedestan – 300 persons. Each night they carry the tradesmen’s chests and merchandise to the outer cellars of the Bedestan, stacking them there as a safeguard against fire. These porters parade with their load supports on their backs, rope in hand, and sword in belt.

The Market Hall Criers – These men have warrants and trade charters and are magnificent and trustworthy men who serve in the Inner Bedestan. All of them join the parade with jewelry on their clothes, wearing swords, double-edged scimitars, fur, and other valuable clothes.

And on, and on.

As the parade suggests, the Grand Bazaar was a highly organized institution, as much or more than an urban shopping mall today. Its administration was overseen by the royal court and its commerce was carefully regulated by a guild system.

The guilds insisted that all the merchants of a single trade be located in a single street or area of adjoining streets in the bazaar. The close seating arrangement was a form of price control because it prevented individual merchants from underselling their fellow guildsmen or overcharging and driving away customers.

Today, the Ottoman market has long since become a free market. The guild system, abolished in 1913, has given way to shop owners of all kinds mixed together and competing for the highest prices.

It is ironic for visitors to realize that today's hustling chaos is a world removed from the calm, rich, self-satisfied air of the Grand Bazaar’s heyday.

Just how different was it?

Gulersoy tries to answer the question this way:

“While gold poured down on the Throne City, the Covered Bazaar was also filled with gold, silver, silver thread, silk, jewelry, and crystal. But when the empire fell, the pale and dead colors of the sunset reflected on these walls.”

He adds: “the mood of Istanbul in each period is shown in the Grand Bazaar … certain other ages came, and copper took the place of gold and bead that of pearl.”

Today, the Grand Bazaar is only one of many places in Istanbul to buy carpets and there are many opinions about which is the best.

But the Bazaar does offer one thing that no other venue can provide. That is, 1,500 years of history and the sense that, like the starting price of a carpet, there is more to the story than meets the eye.




Saturday, 1 August 2009

Antique Rug And Textile Show Opens In San Francisco In October

SAN FRANCISCO, August 1, 2009 -- When rug collectors in most cities want to buy a carpet, their choices are somewhat limited.

The local options are usually just those dealers with established shops in the area. And, among these, only a few may have collectible pieces.

So, one can only be interested in efforts to break that mold.

One such effort will take place in San Francisco this October.

It is the Antique Rug And Textile Show (ARTS): an 11-day fly in to the Bay City by 40 antique rug and textile dealers from Europe, Asia, and America.

The ARTS show is a co-operative effort between Jozan Magazine – one of the best-known Europe-based rug sites – and the 40 independent rug dealers themselves.

The organizers of the show appear to have taken their inspiration for the event from the ancient practices of the Silk Roads. In those days, merchants banded together to travel trade routes in giant camel caravans, staying overnight in caravansarais.

“In the grander establishments, those on major trade routes,” says show organizer Michael Craycraft, “one could find a veritable souk where there was a lively trade in luxury goods from the far corners of the earth.”

In this case, he says, the souk will be a highly specialized one, offering antique and archeological textiles, costume, and oriental rugs.

The venue is Motel Capri, 2015 Greenwich Street, San Francisco, and the dates are October 15-26, 2009.

Organizers say some 2,000 items will be on sale from the dealers, many of whom are well-known internationally. For a full list of the participants see: Exhibitors

(Illustrations: Top: Konya kelim, circa 1800, exhibitor Michael Craycraft. Bottom, Early 19th Century Ersari Group Rug with some silk highlights from Amu Darya area, exhibitor Craig Hatch)