Carpet weaving is the traditional art of Turks and the development of the arts linked to the Turks since its inception, with early woven fragments discovered in Central Asia. The knotted rug appears to have spread from Central Asia westwards through Persia and Anatolia with growing Turkish empires.
Floor rugs have been known since ancient times going back to Assyrians and Babylonians but these were not knotted rugs but woven fabrics. The knotted carpet does not appear in Islamic countries until the emergence of the Seljuks in the 11th century.
The Seljuk rugs found at Konya, capital of Anatolian Seljuks, are knotted in the Turkish – Ghiordes knot, in the same style as the carpet fragments found in tombs in the Altai mountains. (Hermitage Museum, Leningrad). Seljuk carpets can be characterized by geometric and stylized floriated motifs in repeating rows and by Kufic inscription border patterns. By the beginning of the 14th century, animal figures emerged in Turkish rugs. By the 16th century, the medallion motifs and the diverse foliate compositions had taken over, as the influences of the expanding Ottoman territories and the Iranian and Mamluke art were felt. The period claims two major groups of rugs; the Usak rugs with the essential motif of a medallion and the Ottoman court rugs with naturalistic motifs. The Ottoman court rugs used the Iranian Senna knot, in order to accommodate the very fine and detailed floriated designs and the clusters of Turkish flowers – the tulip, hyacinth, carnation, rose, and the blossoming branches. Ottoman court rugs also started to use silk in the warp and the weft on the looms of Istanbul and Bursa. In 1831, the first carpet factory with 100 looms was opened by Abdulhamid II at Kereke and even today, rugs in Anatolia, especially around Kayseri, Sivas, Konya, Kars, Isparta follow the traditional patterns of this truly Turkish art.
Hereke carpets for the Ottoman Palaces: Although the history of carpets can be traced back to ancient times that is to the Turks who lived in Central Asia, the knotted pile carpet spread with the rise of the Seljuk Turks of Anatolia in the 11th century. New motifs and techniques developed rapidly, producing a rich variety of rugs throughout the many Turkish carpet weaving regions. Apart from carpets peculiar to such regions as Usak and Bergama, and those representing different periods of Turkish history, there are still other types based on motif and technique. These include carpets bearing animal motifs, the Holbein-type rug (Turkish rugs which appear in the works of Flemish painters), and the Ottoman palace carpets. Hereke carpets belong to the last category.
The first Turkish weaving workshop was established in 1843. In Hereke, a small coastal town 60 kilometers from Istanbul on the bay of Izmit. It also supplied the royal palaces with silk brocades and other textiles. Known as the Hereke Imperial Factory, the mill was subsequently enlarged to include looms producing cotton fabric. Silk brocades and velvets for drapes and upholstery were manufactured at a workshop known as the “kamhane”. In 1850 the cotton looms were moved to a factory in Bakirköy, west of Istanbul, and one hundred jacquard looms were installed in Hereke. Although in the early years the factory produced exclusively for the Ottoman palaces, as production increased the woven products were available in the Grand Bazaar in the second half of the 19th century. In 1878 a fire in the factory caused extensive damage, and it was not reopened until 1882. Carpet production began in Hereke in 1891 and expert carpet weavers were brought from the famous carpet weaving centers of Sivas, Manisa and Ladik. The carpets were all hand woven, and in the early years they were either made for the Ottoman palaces or as gifts for visiting statesmen. The number of looms steadily increased to meet the demand and, when Hereke carpets went on sale in Istanbul, their fame quickly spread to Europe. Soon the Hereke factory was receiving many commercial orders and business flourished.
Hereke carpets are known primarily for their fine weave. Silk thread or fine wool yarn and occasionally gold, silver and cotton thread are used in their production. Wool carpets produced for the palace had 60-65 knots per square centimeter, while silk carpets had 80-100 knots. The knots were of two main types: the “hekim” knot and the Turkish or Gördes knot. After each row is woven, a length of yarn is passed through it and this single-warp knot creates the denser knotting which permits finer and more intricate designs to be created. In some of the carpets, a relief effect is obtained by clipping the pile unevenly.
The oldest Hereke carpets, now exhibited in Topkapi and other palaces in Istanbul, contain a wide variety of colours and designs. The Typical “palace carpet” features intricate floral designs, including the tulip, daisy, carnation, crocus, rose, lilac, and hyacinth. It often has quarter medallions in the corners. The medallion composition used in rugs made in Usak, in western Turkey, since the 16th century was widely used at the Hereke factory. These medallions are curved on the horizontal axis and taper to points on the vertical axis. Hereke prayer rugs feature patterns of geometric motifs, tendrils and lamps as background designs within the representation of a mihrap (prayer niche). Once referring solely to carpets woven at Hereke, the term “Hereke carpet” now refers to any high quality carpet woven using similar techniques. Hereke carpets remain among the finest and most valuable examples of woven carpets in the world.