One of the reasons we set our sights on Turkey for our spring 2019 trip was to source and find the best kilim rugs we could find. Our travels took us into the heart of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the entire world. There are more than 4,000 shops inside the Grand Bazaar that sell everything from antiques, Turkish delight candies, textiles and of course kilims.
Flatwoven kilims, and in particular those which originate in the Anatolian region of Turkey, are highly regarded as some of the best in the world. Weavers in this area specialize in pileless, slit-woven rugs that are two sided and often very colorful.
Anatolian kilims feature bold, sharp patterns and diagonal shapes and motifs. Many of the designs are rooted in cultural symbols and myths that are significant to the nomadic and tribal cultures of Anatolia.
Kilim Symbols and Motifs
The symbols and motifs used in Anatolian kilims were woven by the makers to convey ideas and myths. When decoded, they often can provide insight into the weaver’s life, showing signs of their environment, social status, or wants and needs for a successful or happy life.
Our Kilim III, for example, presents three central medallions that upon close inspection represent fertility. This design is a combination of the prevalent “hands on hips” motif, or elibelinde, which symbolizes motherhood, and the ram’s horn, or kocboynuzu, which is used as a symbol of power and masculinity. When combined together, they create a union between man and woman. The diamond shape in the center of each design is the eye motif, which is used to provide protection for the family.
Surrounding the center medallions are small triangle-topped “s” shapes that are most likely representations of either a snake or a hook. Snakes have a long history with humankind, but in Anatolian weaves, they are used as a symbol of happiness and fertility. Hooks, on the other hand, are an Anatolian motif used to ward off evil.
Outside of the center area, you’ll see a blue inner border containing a star. Stars in Anatolian beliefs generally represent happiness, although there is some thinking that it may also represent the womb. It is arguable, given these symbols and motifs, that the maker of this carpet created it as a dowry offering or wedding gift to a new couple.
The mark used on the outer border of the rug that contains three horizontal lines crossed by one vertical line is a special one. This symbol is most likely a family sign. Turks have used specific figures to represent a particular family throughout history. These motifs are akin to a signature, woven into the base of the kilim. How special is that?
On Kilim I, the motifs are similar enough to convey that this rug was likely made by the same family or tribe of Anatolian as Kilim III. The three center medallions in this kilim, however, present an overall diamond shape, which appear to be an eye design. Eyes have a long visual history in Turkish culture, as it is believed that a bad glance may be prevented with the use of these symbols throughout the home. Around the center design are many small motifs, including a comb containing 5 prongs. Five is a lucky number in this culture, as it is believed to represent the fingers on a hand, which would be used to ward off evil. More specifically, the comb may also reference marriage and birth, as it is frequently used in Anatolian kilims to express the desire for getting married and for the protection of unborn children.
The border surrounding the center area showcases triangles with a straight line on top, which are believed to be an amulet used to protect a family against the effect of harm and misfortune. Along the same theme, the outer border on this kilim presents a hook motif, which is also used in Anatolian culture to prevent evil eye.
Given the themes on this carpet, it could be presumed that the creator was a young woman looking for fortune as she awaited marriage.
Building Our Collection
We hand selected these gorgeous kilims on our recent trip to Turkey. I was immediately drawn to the symbols and shapes within their designs, and I love that there is hidden meaning behind each one.
If you’re interested in reading more about kilims, I recommend the book “Kilim, The Complete Guide: History, Pattern, Technique, Identification” by Alastair Hull.