The Muslim Carpet and the Origin of Carpeting
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Table of contents
1. Historical and cultural background
2. Ottoman and Persian carpets
3. Europe before the carpet
4. The Muslim carpet and Europe
5. Imitation of the Muslim carpet in Europe
6. Summary and conclusion
Note of the editor
A first version of this article was published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in April 2004. The present version was slightly revised and edited, and new illustrations were added.
* * *1. Historical and cultural background
Muslims regard the carpet with special esteem and admiration. For the traditional Bedouin tribes of Arabia, Persia and Anatolia, the carpet was at the centre of their life being used as a tent sheltering them from the sand storms, a floor covering providing great comfort for the household, wall curtains protecting privacy, and useful items such as blankets, bags, and saddles. It was indeed a resourceful inspiration to make use of the abundant wool produced by their herds.
With Islam, another significant value was added to the carpet, being a furniture of Paradise mentioned numerous times in the Qur‘an. For example in Chapter 88 (Surah), the carpet is counted as one of the riches the believer will be rewarded in the afterlife.
There is considerable material dealing with the history, nature and character of the Muslim carpet. Such material is published under three main themes: the Oriental carpet, the Muslim carpet, or under regional classification such as Turkish carpet, Persian carpet and the like. Historic sources have established that the carpet tradition is a very old custom practised by early civilisations. Recent discoveries (dating from 1949) of a carpet in the tomb of a Scythian prince in Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains (southern Siberia) date back to the 6th century BCE. This carpet, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, is the oldest extant knotted carpet . From a study of its knotting technique, as well as its decoration, it appeared clearly that the so-called "Pazyryk carpet" had a Persian origin . The next evidence available in the early development of the carpet consists of small 6th-century CE  fragments from Turfan (east Turkestan), on the old silk road, which were discovered between 1904 and 1913. It appears clear from these two evidences that the carpet was first made in the region of what was to become later a substantial part of the Muslim world.
The earliest surviving Muslim carpet, however, are fragments found in Al-Fustat (old Cairo). The oldest of these belonged to the 9th century (821 CE), while the remaining were dated to 13th, 14th and 15th centuries . Based on the form of their knots and decorative designs, these fragments were classified into two types. The first group included fragments having a knot similar to a later Spanish knot (knotted onto a single warp) and decorated with geometrical design similar to Spanish (Andalusian) carpets of the 15th century from Alcaraz . Therefore, these were considered to be the first prototype of the latter Spanish design. The other category of fragments incorporated stylised animal presentations and were considered to be of Anatolian typology from the 14th and 15th centuries, when animal decorative designs were the fashion. The similarity to the Spanish and Anatolian carpets has made some historians think they were only Fatimid imports. However, the fame gained by the so-called "Cairene carpets" during the 17th century can only refer to the refinement reached by the Fustat carpet tradition.
Rice confirmed this as he argued:
"The fact that similar designs inspired the woodwork of the middle period in Egypt, as well as the known competence of Egyptian weavers in other veins in early times, tends to support the existence of a local carpet industry, and that, if it existed at all, it was probably established as early as the eighth or ninth century." 
Under the Seljuks, the Muslim carpet reached a high degree of proficiency of technique and high quality of design. Descending from Anatolian origins , the Seljuks brought with them the talent and tradition of carpet making and other arts as they spread their reign to Persia and Baghdad by the 11th century.
Ettinghausen , and many others, considered the Seljuks to be the real originators of the Muslim carpet. A study of two specimens of this period, found in museums of Turco-Islamic art in Istanbul and Konya, revealed the characteristics of the Seljuk carpet art. Carpets in the Istanbul Museum belonged to the Ala' al-Din Mosque of Konya, which were dated back to 13th century when the mosque was first built, and Konya was the capital of the Seljuk of Rum (1081-1302). The carpets of the Konya Museum, however, were originally made for Eshrefoglu Mosque at Beysehir, built in 1298. The carpets incorporated beautiful geometrical designs of stars framed by a band of calligraphy.
2. Ottoman and Persian carpets
By the collapse of the Seljuk Caliphate under the invasion of the Mongols, who by 1259 took Persia, Syria and Baghdad, carpet manufacturing seemed to halt for a while. The barbarity of the Mongol attack wiped out any artistic production, inevitably affecting the development of the carpet industry. There are no recorded examples of this period, but historic sources indicate that carpet manufacturing recovered after a short period. The famous traveller Ibn Buttuta (1304-1377), for example, talked of the quality of Anatolian carpets, which he found in the hospice to which he was invited , and in his travels Marco Polo (1254-1324) praised them . Historic sources talked of the spread of stylised animal designs during this period (14th century) (figure 1).
However, the only evidence available is found in some European paintings made by artists of this period, who made contact with some of these carpets. The first painting of Saint Ludovic crowning Robert Angevin made by Simone Martini (circa 1280-1344) in 1317, which is kept at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, depicted a carpet with geometrical patterns and eagles under the throne. More paintings of carpets having stylised animal motifs were executed, including The Marriage of the Virgin of Nicolo of Buonaccorso  (1348-1388), the Madonna and Child with Saints of Stefano de Giovanni, or that
by: Rabah Saoud
, Tue 13 April, 2004