Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 07:15 AM:

A Mystery Piece Bought in Bergama

Dear Folks -

My wife is more interested in archeology than I, and when we first arrived in Bergama, she ferreted out a red brick ruin that could be seen from the street.

I took a few photos of it, then hung about, while she spent more time than I could imagine was deserving, examining all the provided informational details.

On one side of this ruin there was a street of rug shops with garish pieces hung and laid about in profusion.

Our car was on the other side of the street from these shops and when she came back, she asked whether I was going to take a look inside any of these shops. I admitted that I was not encouraged, but she wanted to look into one, so we crossed the street and did.

A young dealer pulled a lot of material off stacks in response to her questions while I watched. Finally, I asked whether he had older material and he looked around and found one reasonable Shiraz, about 5 X7, with decent natural dyes, and a price that would have been a reasonable beginning for bargaining had it interested me. I said to him that I was surprised that there wasn’t more antique material visible in Bergama and he said “My uncle has antiques.” (There is always a father or brother or uncle nearby who has anything you ask about that a given dealer seems not to have.)

So we walked a couple of blocks to the uncle’s shop. It turned out that the uncle is mostly a dealer in Ottoman antiques, metal, tile, wood, jewelry. There are some textiles scattered about, but these are clearly not what he is about. We wander about the shop. Now, ultimately, we bought three pieces in this place, but I want here to talk about only one of them.

In the back of the shop, rather obscure on a shelf, I saw the end of something that looked potentially interesting.

The dealer took it down and we unrolled it. It was about a foot wide and maybe 10-12 feet long.

It intrigued me. I had not, I think, seen anything like it before. The ground is ivory wool plain weave with some decoration on its length, but especially on its ends.

The field decoration is the result of what may be blue-stemmed and abstracted red flowers pointing inward. The stems vary in length ascending and descending alternatively, so as to form another set of diamonds down the negative space of the field’s center. This decoration of the field was done on the loom.

The ends are done in a fine slit tapestry. In some areas cotton has been employed. The designs on both ends are composed of four regular diamond forms bracketed top and bottom by rows of small reciprocating stepped polygons which are themselves bounded top and bottom by small banded borders. At first glance one thinks that the white in these end designs is negative space of the ivory wool ground operating as positive design elements.

But then one notices that the color in the end finish designs are white, not ivory. These are the cotton areas.

Here is a look at its back.

Now I thought this piece attractive, despite the fact that it has stains in places on it.

I thought it exhibited a nice, crisp, economical design, using a fairly narrow palette, but one that, at five, is in fact wider than an initial impression would suggest. In addition to its ground ivory, it exhibits a lighter blue, a red, a black and a soft orange.

The drawing, while abstracted, is very regular over a large area and the designs are applied and rendered in a very finished way.

But a further source of attraction for me was that I did not think I had encountered this format before. It was a kind of mild mystery and that is how I want to present it to you here.

What are your own thoughts about what this format is and how it might have been used? Further, I bought it in Bergama, but do you seen any indications that would suggest where it was woven?

As usual, all thoughts and opinions are sought. Those with rationales will be responded to.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-22-2007 07:47 AM:

Hi John.

Very interesting piece. Looking forward to the learned commentary.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Marty Grove on 05-22-2007 08:43 AM:


G'day John,

This piece appeals to me in its sophisticated simplicity - not an ideal term of expression, however that is how it strikes me.

My immediate thought is that it may be a wrap - whether for male or female is beyond me, but I see it as an ornamental extra thrown over the shoulder and around, with perhaps the detailed end with the split weave patterning ending in the lower front of the person.

Could it be worn by a performance person, such as a musician? I cant really see it as a static covering for something, one would imagine it to have the decorated split weaver then on both ends.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting piece which Im sure will have people wracking their brains


Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 09:02 AM:

Dear folks -

I am not going to respond to Marty's suggestion for the moment, but instead want to give you here what the dealer who had it said he thought it was.

He said that it was an "eating cloth," a soufreh (my word not his) of some sort.

It seemed a bit fragile for that, although there were stains, that could have occurred in such use.


R. John Howe

Posted by richard tomlinson on 05-22-2007 09:23 AM:

hi john

interesting piece.

my first thougt was sofreh (and not because of the stains) but it seems awfully long and narrow. and its not a kilim is it - it's a tapestry weave?

i think marty is on track. a wrap of some kind....

i am more interested, however, in an attribution.


richard tomlinson

Posted by Cevat Kanig on 05-22-2007 09:50 AM:


My first guess would be that It migth be a Balkan kilim.

Cevat Kanig

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 10:42 AM:

Hi Cevat -

What do you see that makes you think Balkan kilim?


R. John Howe

Posted by Cevat Kanig on 05-22-2007 10:53 AM:

Hi John,

The Design and the coloration of the kilim reminded me Manastir kilims.


Cevat Kanig

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 12:26 PM:

Dear folks -

Manastir kilims often have yellow grounds, but the instance below may exhibit some of the features that Canig is remembering.

If you can enlarge this image, you will see that some of the drawing of the end diamonds on my piece is similar that on this piece.

I think this rug may be for sale so no evaluating or price comments please.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-22-2007 12:32 PM:

eating cloth


The eating cloth idea also struck me at first look. I know Arabs would often arrange themselves in a long, narrow double file, seated on the ground, on festive occasions involving eating. I don't recall any such textiles as this one, however.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Cevat Kanig on 05-22-2007 12:35 PM:

Hi John,

My name is not Canig, it is Cevat Kanig.



Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 04:26 PM:

Apologies and...

Cevat -

My apologies. Last Tuesday I could have pleaded jet lag, but it's too late for that now.

My mother taught me to be more careful of the names of other people.

Does the Manastir piece I posted have features similar to what you were thinking of?

To those thinking "soufreh":

Well, it is appropriately long, but it's too narrow at 12" for people to eat on sitting directly opposite. If they sat staggered it might work.

It is marked with design indentations similar to those we often see on soufrehs.

Here, below, is an image of a Kurdish or Afshar soufreh I own.

You can see the side identations in its design, but believe me, this latter piece is a very different animal than the piece I found in Bergama. This latter piece is heavy and sturdy and would serve very well as an eating cloth. (It's longer than it looks because I've folded it here to cover a couple of holes in its field.)

If this Bergama piece is a soufreh, it is for some very small people who eat very delicately.

The are smaller soufrehs used to wrap such things as bread, but I think my Bergama piece far too long for that.

"Soufreh," examined a bit, seems less likely to me as a possible format and use for this piece.


R. John Howe

Posted by Horst Nitz on 05-22-2007 04:54 PM:

Hi John

nice catch, sofreh no, could it be a burial cloth? Forensic analysis of the stain might help .

We perhaps could do something on stain removal eventually.



Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 05:17 PM:

Hi Horst -

Well, it's longish and seems capable of some winding, but, oddly, I had one other suggestion from a dealer, who looked at it downstream from Bergama, that has a kind of congruence with your suggestion.

He said that some of the material in this Bergama piece is the kind of combination of cotton and linen that the Egyptians used to wrap their mummies.

So there is a sense in which your suggestion has support from another quarter.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-22-2007 09:38 PM:

Questioning My Sense of Touch

Horst et al -

I'm now beginning to question a bit my sense of touch with regard to this piece.

In my initial post I described the basic ground material as wool.

But this afternoon I've been reading again my diary that I kept during our trip and see the following passage:

"...'Experienced 0ttoman dealer' says that the ground cloth is a mixture of cotton and linen similar to the cloth the Egyptians used to wrap their mummies. He says that we should emphatically not wash this piece. He says it has been washed once and that there is a little color transfer from red into white areas (dyes may not be natural). He says the stains are from rust and will not come out. But he does think the piece is over 100 years old, and he is visibly taken with it..."

Anyway, either my tactile skills or my memory seem(s) to need recalibrating.


R. John Howe

Posted by Cevat Kanig on 05-22-2007 10:24 PM:

Hi John,

I was in Bergama 1983 or 84 { i was 16 or 17 } with my older brother traveling Anatolia, We bougth a Yunce yoruk kilim in Bergama that time it was a very old fragment tough, we bougth some other thing else but i dont remember the others,in the 70's and 80's you had chances to find realy nice piece in Anatolia, naturely they all desipered from the market at this time.

On the way of balikesir we stop by a rug store in Balikesir,the dealer had many nice Anatolian kilim one of them was an
Ottoman kilim fragment that i asked to my brother to buy it
, bud he did not, he thougth it is a persian kilim because of diffrent coloration,but we bougth many pieces instate,
later on he learn that it was an ottoman kilim fragment, these day in Anatolia you don't see many piece.

Thanks for reminding me Those days with two pictures from Bergama.
The kilim you bougth there,i realy don't know what it is, could be a weaving from Balikesir area or any where else.


Cevat Kanig

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-23-2007 02:32 AM:

Geographic Source

Hi Cevat -

You mention Balikesir as a possible place where this piece was woven and that is the only specific location anyone else has suggested to me so far.

A very cultured Ottoman dealer down the road in Selcuk said that this piece (and a heybe that you have not yet seen) that I bought from this Bergama Ottoman antique dealer were woven in Balikesir.

It might be useful to indicate where this is. Balikesir is, most usually, a reference to a province in northwest Anatolia (there is also a Balikesir city). Here is a link to some specifics.

Note that this province is not the one in the furthest northwest corner of Anatolia, but that it surrouds the one that is, with areas that border both the Sea of Marmara and the Agean. It is also opposite the European part of Turkey that includes the area where Manastir kilims are woven. So in that sense, Cevat's conjecture of similarity with Manastir kilim features is not a geographic stretch.

But Balikesir is the most specific attribution I have been given, and it was given without any really specific justifying indicators (In fact, the Selcuk Ottoman antiques dealer who gave it to me seemed a little puzzled by my request for indicators. It emerged in halting English that it just "looked like" a Balikesir piece to him. Given our mutual handicap of the lack of a common language it seemed impolite to be more insistent. He wasn't selling me the piece, only commenting on it)

I'll wait a bit before I say what several folks "downstream" from Bergama said about how this piece was likely used. I'm hoping that Wendel Swan will take a "swing" at use. He likes mystery pieces.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marla Mallett on 05-23-2007 10:18 PM:

Hi John,

This weaving, with its lighter weight and more nearly balanced weave, rather than weft-faced tapestry kilim structure, reminds me of things that I saw being woven many years ago in a couple of little towns on a road going southeast from Balikiser—the towns of Bigadic and Sindirgi. The looms were large two-harness treadle looms, and were being used for a variety of simple household items—the kinds of weavings that rarely reach the marketplace. We tend to forget that in the past, clothing and all sorts of light-weight household fabrics were produced all over Turkey that were non-commercial, and woven on looms that were quite different from the sturdy rug looms with which we are most familiar. I do agree that the tapestry borders on this piece seem related to details on some small “Manister” kilims—pieces woven in Western Turkey by Turks who had moved back to Anatolia from the Balkans. The linear “inlay” details in the body of the piece could be from anywhere.


Posted by R. John Howe on 05-24-2007 06:59 AM:

Dear folks -

First, a thanks to Marla for her comment on this piece.

As I said, the person who sold it to me, who was admittedly mostly in Ottoman antiques other than textiles, said that it was an eating cloth.

Marty Grove said immediately that it seemed more likely to him to have been used as a "wrap" and that is precisely what the consensus view was from a number of folks that saw it "downstream" from Bergama.

The consensus is that it was folded in two lengthwise (someone did it and that's why there is a crease in it now) and then wrapped around and around the waist to form a sash. The wrapping would have been done so that the two decorated ends pointed down.

Into this wrapped sash one would tuck one's wallet, one's knife, one's pistol, etc. It served as a kind of all-purpose pocket.

I think it one of the more interesting pieces I own despite the fact that it may be impossible to clean and difficult to display in a one-bedroom condo.

Thanks to all, for their thoughts about it.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 05-24-2007 09:00 AM:

Hi John

I noticed the fold along the length, too, and am kind of puzzled by it. The direction of the fold is such that the reverse side of the brocaded ends would be exposed, rather than their "proper" faces. This seems pretty unlikely (to me) to be the way it was used originally, and my best guess is that the fold was put into it after it was retired and wound up under a stack of heavy things in a dealer's place.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-24-2007 10:23 AM:

Steve -

This piece was folded and refolded lengthwise several times after I bought it (I usually put it flat again, each time, so that I could ask the next person about it uncued) and I think it is just chance that the last fold before this photo was taken was a "backwards" one so to speak.

I think because it has been folded so frequently in use, it now takes a fold readily, regardless of the direction in which that is made.


R. John Howe