The History of Oushak Carpets
Oushak rugs, also called "Uşak" rugs, are traditional Turkish rugs that use a particular family of designs, called by the convention after the city of Oushak, Turkey. It is one of the larger towns in Western Anatolia, a major center of rug production from the early days of the Ottoman Empire into the early 20th century.
Carpet making as a handicraft was brought to Oushak by the nomads who migrated from Central Asia. The city of Oushak, an essential place between the Murat Mountain and Ahir Mountain plateaus, and the Manisa and Aydin winter quarters gained importance from those times. Carpets made in this period were only used at homes and in family environments.
The Gained Importance of Oushak Carpets
After some time, mainly due to the capitulations in the country in the 1500s, foreign ambassadors came to Turkey. They were given the right to trade within the Ottoman borders. Thus, Oushak carpets started being recognized abroad. While first-class families in Europe have their paintings painted by famous painters, Oushak carpets are used to decorate walls, floors, and tables. In some famous painters' paintings, Oushak carpets took place and are named after the painters such as Lotto and Holbein. Therefore, the sophisticated versions of Oushak carpets from the 16th century have survived to our time. Also, they began to be woven for commercial purposes in large workshops.
Oushak carpets gained great importance during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. At that time, weaving masters brought from Azerbaijan started to weave carpets unique to Oushak with new styles. Anatolian muftis were appointed so that the carpets would not lose their properties so that the weaving continued under control. The patterns were designed by miniaturists and decorative artists and were named palace carpets. Spreading from Ottoman palaces to European castles, from mosques to churches, the Oushak carpet is not just a carpet but a legend that is a symbol of respectability. Therefore, this carpet business started to develop even more after Istanbul mosques and palaces ordered carpets from Oushak. It is known that most mosques and tombs were decorated with Oushak carpets. For instance, these carpets were purchased for the Suleymaniye, Selimiye, and Fatih mosques and tombs.
The Weakening of Recognition
It is not difficult to guess that carpet weaving in Oushak, like other types of arts in our country, lost its popularity during the stagnation period. As a result of the decrease in orders, the carpet business has also stagnated for a long time. However, since the 18th century, the carpet business in Oushak begins to revive for another reason. This time the British in Izmir started to buy Oushak carpets, and later, the Dutch, Italians, Austrians, and Germans bought carpets from Oushak for their palaces and churches. Later, in the 19th century, when Armenian, Greek, and Jewish merchants took over the carpet industry in Anatolia, they started to order carpets for western states and according to their taste.
As a result of the oriental carpet orders, changes occur in the colors and patterns of the carpets woven in Oushak, as in all the carpet production centers in Anatolia. Westerners wanted carpets woven with colors and patterns that suit their tastes. Therefore, they enabled the local minorities who wanted to meet the orders of the oriental carpet companies and the British businessmen to become merchants. Greek and Jewish minorities began to weave carpets in colors and patterns according to the desired orders and sell them to British companies. This situation leads to the abandonment of traditional colors and motifs in our main carpet production centers such as Kutahya, Sivas, Kayseri, Demirci and Isparta.
New Steps to Create a Mark in the World
To increase the old awareness of our cultural heritage, hand-woven Oushak carpets, which made a remarkable impression in history as a work of art, in the world market, and to leave an artistic legacy for the following centuries, progress was made in the field of textiles in the 2000s. The Oushak yarns were started to be produced again in the factories. Oushak carpet, which has created a signature on the history of art with its durability, takes its solid structure from natural wool carpet yarn. The durability and its solid structure have been preserved despite the passing of years. Carpets and kilims exported in this direction are provided to various companies operating in the hand-woven carpet sector in Turkey, and continuity in quality is followed.
The traditional carpet art of the Turks has a distinguished place in our art history. The art has been shaped in the flow of Turkish history, and they have left their mark on Turkish carpet history in terms of knot technique, colors, and pattern features.
We can talk about this traditional art with strong textile motifs and knot techniques today. These technical features of the Turkish carpet have been the primary basis of regular and continuous development. Knotted carpets have a long history. The invention of this technique is based on practical reasons, such as a nomadic tribe's desire to find a thicker and warmer floor.
Primary Materials in Oushak Rugs
One of the essential features of Oushak carpets is that the weft, warp, and knotted threads are which are wool. The wool that they use is known for its silky, luminous texture. There are also carpets woven with cotton yarn but are very few. So instead, it is woven with the knot technique, also known as the Turkish Gordes knot. The frequency of stitches woven per square decimeter varies between 30x30 and 40x40. This knot also increases the durability and quality of the carpet.
The high pile of old Oushak carpets is also a feature of it. One of the reasons the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have preferred and used these high-piled carpets a lot is their humid weather. This is where the value of Oushak carpets comes from, which last for three or four centuries.
Common Motifs and Patterns Found in Oushak Carpets
At the end of the 19th century, the Oushak carpets had been through two significant shifts in terms of design. Firstly, floral patterns in the Persian tradition were inducted into the design. Secondly, as the European ambassadors came to Turkey, they demanded room size and decorative carpets. Thus, more giant carpets began to be woven.
We can collect Oushak carpets in four groups in terms of pattern and color as follows;
- Medallion Oushak carpets
- Starry Oushak Carpets
- Holbein and Lotto type Oushak Carpets
- Bird Oushak Carpets
Medallion Oushak Carpets
Medallion Oushak Rugs were produced in the 16th century. A wide variety of rich medallion types on Oushak carpets reveal the dominance and creative power of Turkish masters. These masters beware from transferring the art of the book to the carpet. The middle of the carpet has a large medallion, and the corners have quarter medallions. The inside of the medallions and the base of the carpet are filled with plant ornaments, compositions with human and animal figures according to miniature art. Also, the medallion on the middle axis symbolizes infinity.
Another type of Medallion Oushak Carpets is the "Corner Medallion" type. In this carpet, the tree of life composition is adorned with flowers, in which the dragon is designed as a spike symbolizing fertility.
Starry Oushak Carpets
The carpets in this group, the best examples of which were seen until the 17th century, are known as Starry Oushak and are decorated with octagonal star motifs. The palm leaf motifs in the stars symbolize the tree of life. In the middle of the star, a motif called Rumi, a very traditional bird, and dragon figure is used. A variation of the tree of life, bird, and dragon motifs is used in the One Starry Oushak carpet. Typically, the star motif expresses the productivity of Turkish carpets. It also includes meanings such as birth, life in peace, and renewal of the universe.
Another type of Starry Oushak carpet is the 4 Corner Starry Oushak Carpet. It is known as Star Oushak, and eight-sided star motifs were produced from this motif. This one also represents birth, peaceful life, and renewal of the universe.
Holbein, and Lotto Type Carpets
HOLBEIN: It was depicted in the paintings of Hanz Holbein, the famous German painter of the period, and thus got its name. The central area is decorated with motifs that symbolize life and fertility. The border consists of dragon motifs designed as clouds and used to protect life and fertility.
LOTTO: It was depicted in the paintings of Lorenzo Lotto, the famous Italian painter of the period, and thus got its name. The main theme embroidered on the decoration of the carpet is the combination of bird, dragon, and tree of life motifs. When used together, these motifs mean the eternity of the soul and immortality. The birds are placed on the tree of life to symbolize life and spirit. The dragon is the animal that guards the tree of life. The border is decorated with flower bouquets.
Bird Oushak Carpets
The shapes that make up the central motif resemble a bird at first glance. Hence, the carpets got this name, but actually, these motifs have a deceptive appearance. It consists of various colors of the ground between two leaves that meet each other. Again, the birds on the tree of life represent life and spirit. The dragon is the animal that guards the tree of life. The three motifs symbolize the continuity and immortality of one's soul. So, it is seen that Anatolian people expressed their feelings by weaving their fight with the bird and sometimes with the dragon. Besides, the bird has many other meanings. For instance, sometimes it is love or a lover, and sometimes the soul of the deceased. It also represents strength and might.
Other motifs that are frequently used in carpets,
- CINTEMANI: Cinte mani - “treasure of thought” is a motif, which consists of three moons in a round shape, and two wavy cloud lines on them, and is widely used in Turkish ornamentation. This motif, used by various cultures, expresses multiple elements such as the sun, treasure of thought, moon, and cloud. On the other hand, it is believed that the motifs consisting of three octagons and a dragon on the border represent the moon and the dragon protecting the moon. With the figurative use of sun, moon, and dragon motifs on the carpet, the theme of fertility is also represented.
- FLORAL OUSHAK CARPET: It is an example of local Oushak carpets. The composition was created with flowers, leaves, and branches. Primarily, the abundance and fertility of nature are described in this pattern.
- CORE-FOCUSED OUSHAK CARPET: It is a typical example of an Oushak carpet decorated with flowers in the patterns on the center and corner. Core carpets, also known as Sofra bucak, consist of a core pattern on their base and the corner patterns that adapt to this pattern.
- CLOUD OUSHAK CARPET: This pattern got this name since the symmetrical shapes on the ground are similar to clouds. The repetitive use of clouds represents the continuity of life.
- PATTERNED OUSHAK CARPET: It is another example of local, traditional Oushak carpets. They are original carpets produced by the local people living in the region using materials, colors, and motifs specific to the region.
- LEAF OUSHAK CARPET: It is an example of the last period of the Oushak carpets. It is an original carpet model with a repetition of red and navy blue.
- LOCAL OUSHAK CARPET: It is a model created by nature people by observing nature. The model features dagger-shaped leaves and colorful flowers.
Main Colors Used in Oushak Carpets
The colors in the old Oushak carpets are mostly dark and deep, and three or four colors dominate the carpet. These colors include deep blue, deep red, green, yellow, very little white, and buff. More specifically, in some resources, the dyes are more similar to colors of cinnamons, terracotta tints, gold, ivory, saffron, blues, greens, and grays.
Medallion Oushak Carpets
The colors used in these carpets are mainly red, dark blue, green, yellow, and light blue. The ground color is usually red, and the medallions are decorated with floral motifs as a border in the middle. Some can be touched in large sizes and reach 10 meters in length.
Starry Oushak Carpets
These are medium-sized rugs, few more than four meters long. Always on a red background, eight-pointed star medallions and small diamonds were decorated, which make up the dark blue inserts on the carpet. These do not indicate the middle of the carpet, and it is clear that the medallions are connected to an endless pattern. Sometimes the ground may be blue, and the medallions may be red. The medallions are filled with yellow and red palmettes and double Rumi, and the angular branches on the ground are adorned with multicolored flowers. The colors used in Starry Oushak carpets are red, dark blue, green, yellow, and light blue. Eight-pointed star motifs on the axis generally shifted on a red background are woven in the form of infinity.
Holbein, and Lotto Type Carpets
The same colors are dominant in this type of carpet. The ground color of Holbein carpets is red or dark blue. It is decorated with Rumi palmette and plant patterns consisting of large octagons on the ground. Cartridge, Chinese cloud, and Kufic motifs are found on the borders. On the Lotta carpets, yellow floral motifs on a red background and stylized Kufic motifs are frequently and sparsely placed in the middle. Vibrant frames with cartridges and curved branches developed from Kufic motifs are seen. In addition, cloud motifs were also used on the borders.
Bird Oushak Carpets
Bird Oushak carpets are characteristic carpets with a white or close to light cream floor color. The patterns used are known as the Chinese cloud, palmette borders, bird, and Cintemani names. Since the shapes that make up the main motif resemble a bird at first glance, carpets called "birds" have a deceptive appearance consisting of various colors of the ground between two leaves that meet each other. The colors of Cintemani Oushak carpets are dark blue, red, and yellow. Therefore, when we mention Bird Oushak carpets, the floor is white, and the motifs are distributed in red, dark blue, and yellow.
Tourists' Perspective and Its Impact on Tourism and Economy
These beautiful carpets breath the same air as L. De Vinci's Mona Lisa in the world-famous Louvre Museum in Paris and is in the world’s most famous museums such as Florence Bardini, New York Metropolitan Art, Philadelphia, Victorio and Albert in London, National Gallery of Art, and many more. These masterpieces are in Istanbul Turkish and Islamic Artifacts and Vakif Carpet, Konya Mevlana museums, and essential chambers of the United Nations. Also, the most precious and priceless pieces are decorating the catalog of the world-famous Christie's Auction House.
A Decline of Oushak Carpets Sales?
In the example of Oushak carpets, we can see how a cultural product arising from local art pieces can create a global value in the economic field. Perhaps the basis of our success in the future lies in an absolute vision that "thinks locally and acts globally". Protecting our cultural heritage by highlighting the experiences of ten thousand years of Anatolia with Oushak carpets can turn this into a significant industry in Turkey. However, there has been a decline in the sales of Oushak carpets in Turkey and abroad because of the insufficient promotion of the Oushak carpets. It has been stated that carpets, which Uzbek weaves, have taken over the market.
No Weaving Initiative
There can be multiple reasons for the insufficiency in sales and marketing of these carpets. Even today, there is still no geographical trademark registration of the 600-year-old heritage. Journalists have written that in Oushak, there are still no business or weaving initiatives in the province other than the production struggles of a woman entrepreneur.
Increased Sales Among Some
On the other hand, some say that the Oushak Municipality's recognition in Turkey has increased again with the gift of Oushak Carpet to the President. Although some say that young people have no interest in carpet weaving and will disappear in the long run, newly married young couples prefer Oushak carpets in their homes.
Shortage of Exportation
When we take a look at the effect of these carpets on Oushak tourism, it can be seen that the carpets are mostly demanded from within the country, with the highest demand from the three biggest cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. In addition, outside of the country, it is seen that mostly the Russians are buying Oushak carpets, and there is not enough other foreign demand. Unfortunately, as the carpet shop owners do witness, the orders of those who visit the city, Oushak, for touristic reasons are not sufficient. In the United States Market, there are many Turkish rugs companies. The carpets are primarily manufactured in Turkey and then distributed to the US market through major retailers. In this process, sometimes online channels are also used. However, most of the rugs in the US are not hand-woven yet designed with a traditional Oushak look.
Decreased Sales due to the High Price
Furthermore, it is no secret that Oushak carpets are expensive since it takes a lot of time, experience, and costly material to make these carpets. Because of the high costs, competition with foreign competitors is problematic. The local people in Oushak also say that these carpets are marketed to touristic regions, but there is no immediate sale as before. Even the shop owners do think that the promotion and carpet weaving costs of carpets are high. They highly emphasize that it is difficult to operate in the market because of the low costs abroad.