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Anatolia's Cultural Harmony Carpets of Niğde

Nigde CarpetCarpets, kilims and other types of hand made rugs are among the masterpieces of traditional Anatolian art, reflecting the culture and tastes of centuries. The pastoral nomadic communities of Central Asia obtained most of their basic needs from herding and hunting, and their dwellings were tents woven from wool and hair. Their furnishings too consisted of rugs and other hand woven articles decorated with various motifs. The Central Asian tradition of carpet and kilim weaving going back to 2400 BC was introduced by Turkish migrants to Anatolia, where it encountered an ancient tradition of spinning and weaving fabrics going back even earlier than that of Egypt. Archaeologists have found traces of looms dating back to 3000 BC and fragments of textiles going back to 6000 BC. The ancient peoples of Anatolia spread rush matting on the floors, and wove baskets, hammocks, and fabrics of linen, hair and wool. They hung leather and dyed woven cloths on their walls. Motifs of magical and religious significance decorated these textiles.

Spinning, knitting and weaving were seen as sacred tasks carried out by women, and their products were valued items of trade from Mesopotamia in the east to the Greek colonies in the west. Muslim tribes of Turkish origin are known to have first entered Anatolia via Thrace in the 8th century, and another wave of migration via Iran and Iraq occurred in the 11th century. From Central Asia and the countries through which the Turks made their way eastwards, these new arrivals brought with them a culture influenced by Chinese Tao and Buddhist and Persian Manichaean and Zoroastrian thought. Long after settling in Anatolian cities, traces of these ancient influences survived in the carpets which they wove. Cappadocia in the heart of Anatolia has throughout history been a junction of human movement to west and east. Conquest, trade and migration created a mosaic of cultures here, each exerting its own influence and being influenced in its turn. It is here that Karum and other Assyrian trading colonies, the most ancient of their kind in the world, were located, in the provinces of Kayseri and Niğde.

Carpets have been woven for centuries in the towns of Maden, Kemerhisar, Adurmusun and Fertek in Niğde. Their designs are primarily symmetric, but even when asymmetric, a balance is maintained between filled and empty areas. The idea of unity of opposites is the source of harmony in their compositions. Woven for the most part by women, the motifs of these carpets symbolise concepts like fertility, health, sin, death, rebirth, the evil eye, and infinity. The first Turkish settlers in this region were followers of mystic Islamic movements such as the Kalender, Melami, Bektaşi and Ahi, which exalted human existence. The influence of their own and other cultures gave rise to the unique repertoire of motifs of the region. The most widespread of these motifs are eyes, stars, trees of life, scorpions, talismans, streams, burdock, birds and ram's horns. The eye motif guards against evil and jealousy, and is a symbol of abundance and fertility. The star symbolises happiness, and the tree symbolises life.

A 19th century prayer rug woven in Fertek has tree of life motifs in the form of stylised tulips along the upper edge. Birds depicted in a tree symbolise the soul, and also symbolise sacred beings who lift the souls of the dead to heaven. The scorpion symbolises heroism, and is also believed to lend protection to the carpet. The talisman motif protects both carpet and weaver from evil and misfortune, and imparts strength and courage. The stream motif represents abundance, cleanliness and purity, while burdock represents birth and fertility. Ram's horns are again symbols of abundance and fertility. Some of the carpets woven in the district of Maden have compositions inspired by woodwork in the central field, and are known as cupboard carpets for this reason. In the borders they have 'hand on waist' (elibelinde) and ram's horn motifs, both symbolising fertility, and star motifs.

These motifs and their hidden and sometimes magical meanings can be traced back to various sources: the Hittite cult of the Mother Goddess Cybele, who was widely worshipped by other peoples of Anatolia over the millenia, geometric Islamic decoration, the simple lines of Mesopotamian and Ionian art, Central Asian shamanism, and mandalic symbolism. Last year, with the support of the Ayhan Şahenk Foundation, the province of Niğde launched a project for reviving traditional carpet compositions in Niğde and Cappadocia. The first carpets woven under the auspices of the project were shown at a recent exhibition illustrating the powerful beauty of these local designs.

Skylife 06 /2002

Utku Tonguç Topal, photographer

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