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What Is So Unique About Turkish Rugs?

Turkish rugs factor prominently in legends spanning millennia, their history as fetching as their fibers. But what is it about these rugs that sets them apart? In a word, everything.

When John Kay and Steppenwolf mused about transcending time and space in the 1968 smash “Magic Carpet Ride,” there’s little doubt the enchanted carpet the rockers were conjuring in song was a classic Turkish rug.

 Really, the idea of sailing through blue skies on a rug imbued with mystical powers doesn’t really square with some garden-variety, factory-made hunk of cloth churned out in a faceless factory in the suburbs.

 No, the idea of Turkish rugs — those extraordinary, handmade, colorful, distressed but oh-so-lovely rugs tied to their place of provenance by both name and by history itself — is what fuels the legend.

 Today, Turkish rugs are utilized to instantly elevate living and working spaces, from dining rooms and living rooms to reception areas in chic offices, adding not just grace and charm but a tangible connection to our shared past in a way that other decorating accoutrements simply cannot.

 Which begs the question: what is so unique about Turkish rugs? The short answer: everything, from fabrics to designs, threads to color schemes, and the sense that their antiquity, rather than juxtaposing modern decorating sensibilities, underscores them.

 Turkish rugs represent timeless art steeped in history, culture, and beauty. Kind of like Mansour.

 Whatever the style or sub-category, whether Oushak, Ghordes or Hereke (with each denoting a different region and approach to carpet-making), Turkish rugs are one-of-a-kind, often imitated but never successfully recreated outside long-established parameters of quality, craftsmanship, and materials.

 As might be assumed, it all starts in Turkey, that storied and softly magical place with proverbial feet planted simultaneously in the east and the west and a millennia’s worth of history to ponder and explore.

 Rugs from this region, sometimes referred to as Anatolian rugs, hail from the area dominated by the former Ottoman Empire. Those available today harken mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. The history of these rugs is vast and can easily consume a day of online digging.

 Although rug weaving dates back centuries, it’s no overstatement to say that the artisans who produced what we would recognize today as Turkish rugs raised the bar on every possible level. 

 Indeed, the checklist for buying Turkish rugs — size, material, color, age, manner of creation (handmade versus machine-made), price, type, and style — is uncommonly long yet essential for ensuring quality at a level rarely seen in other household purchases, save maybe original works of art. Which seems about right.

 It is these factors that make Turkish rugs so unique. Turkish rugs can be generally grouped into three styles:

 Ghordes Rugs

 Even a basic online search suggests that Ghordes rugs, notably from the North Aegean in the late 19th century, are stunning, coveted, and instantly perfect anywhere, effortlessly adding class and elegance to their surroundings while remaining understated. A traditional hand-woven Turkish Ghordes carpet can run small or quite large, such as Mansour’s item #20749, a showstopper at nine feet by almost 13 feet, and featuring “a shaded camel field with scattered geometric floral sprays, in a grand ruby border with dramatic scrolling rosette vine, between geometric and similar floral minor borders.”

Oushak Rugs

 Sometimes referred to as “Ushak” carpets, these gorgeous traditional Turkish wool rugs, with their Persian influence and subtle palettes, infuse any room with a palpable sense of serenity as well as history, their loping vines and terra cotta colors frequently emerging as earmarks.

 Oushak rugs are stunning almost anywhere, but especially in settings with more traditional furnishings. Fun fact: Oushak carpets frequently crop up in Renaissance paintings owing to wealthy Europeans importing them to decorate cathedrals, churches, and, of course, their sprawling homes.

 As the world’s leading purveyor of antique rugs as well as carpets and tapestries, Mansour has a vast, brilliant collection of Oushak rugs, none lovelier than item #26318, a late 19th-century Anatolia rug “with an overall design of bold dusty-pink and golden-yellow palmettes linked by angular flowerhead and leafy vine, in a broad dusty-pink border of polychrome lozenge and floral vine between golden-yellow angular floral vine stripes, plain outer shaded teal stripe.” Another one-word descriptor: stunning.

 Hereke Rugs

 Here we (arguably) save the best for last. If you’re seeking a rug with a back story, it’s the Hereke, named for the coastal area in Turkey where, in 1841, Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid I (1823-1861) founded the Hereke Imperial Manufacture to produce textiles for his Dolmabahçe Palace on the Bosphorus. Naturally.

 Initially, the carpets were exclusively given as gifts to visiting VIPs. But by the end of the 19th century, restrictions loosened, and traders could sell Hereke rugs to householders, albeit well-heeled ones.

 Several features make Hereke rugs highly collectible. They’re big, and generally woven in one of two ways: wool on cotton yarn and silk on silk.  Plus, the precision of their double knots makes for a clear display of patterns.

 To wit, see Mansour’s Hereke rug #21088, a sprawling (13x13 feet) West Anatolia late-19th century traditional, hand-woven masterwork featuring “bold angled tendrils forming lozenge lattice, each enclosing radiating palmettes, in a royal purple border of palmette icons issuing alternating dense floral patches, between detailed floral stripes.”

 Whatever the criteria for selection, whether color, design pattern, shape or size, Turkish rugs are instant centerpieces and are simply unequalled, and as unique as their owners.