There are three essential items in every Turkish home: beyaz peynir (feta cheese) in the fridge, tea brewing in the kitchen, and carpets adorning the floors. What’s crucial about these items, especially the carpet, is where you buy them to ensure the best quality. A tourist may find it an overwhelming experience to buy a carpet. You’ll need to know where to go, what to look for, what to expect, and the art of bargaining. It’s not a task to tackle on your own. And that’s where we come in.
We’ve put together a guide for buying Turkish carpets in Istanbul, including all you need to know from the history of carpet-making to the things to ask when purchasing a carpet.
A short introduction to Turkish carpets
The oldest kilim (flat-woven carpet) is thought to have emerged in Çatalhöyük in 7000 BC. Knotted rugs, however, are believed to have been introduced by nomadic Turks sometime during the 8th and 9th centuries, and to have made their way to Anatolia during the 12th century. Carpets were created for warmth and served as valuable furniture within the homes of nomadic Turks.
These famous Turkish carpets were the handiwork of Anatolian women. Between the 12th and 19th centuries, village women weaved carpets for their own use. These carpets served as a form of self-expression, in which women reflected upon their sorrows and joys through their choice of colors, patterns, and motifs. Working with their bare hands, these women used only high-quality natural materials like wool and silk, reflecting the daily life of the period with regional motifs that came to life through their creativity.
Around the 19th century, when Turkish carpets were introduced in Europe, the production of carpets somewhat changed with the opening of companies that catered to customers’ needs and market demands. This transformed carpet-making from an art form to a more commercialized enterprise. In fact, the carpet factory in Hereke, where famous Hereke carpets are made, was opened during this period to produce carpets for Ottoman palaces. Even though traditional carpet-weaving is an art that is fading due to urbanization, there are still village women weaving carpets today.
What you'll find in stores
Most carpet shops in Istanbul, especially those in the Grand Bazaar, sell Turkish carpets (hand-knotted as well as flat-woven, such as kilim and soumak) as well as carpets made in other countries, mainly Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan.
Most Turkish carpets utilize the Turkish knot, also known as Gördes knot, which is a symmetrical knot that creates a very strong and durable carpet. As you walk around different carpet shops, you’ll be spoilt for choice as you come across carpets with traditional designs, as well as patchwork and contemporary pieces.
The salesmen at established shops are knowledgeable and not necessarily pushy. So even if you don’t know much about carpets, you can feel comfortable asking them for help and direction.
The experience of buying a Turkish carpet involves a lot more than picking and choosing your favorite among hundreds of rugs in dozens of carpet stores. It brings with it many cups of tea, deep conversations with carpetsellers, and of course, some bargaining.
Questions to ask when buying a carpet:
Is it handmade? Handmade rugs are more intricate and of better quality, and thus higher in price.
In which city and around what time was it made? This will affect the price. The older the rug, the higher the price.
What kind of material is used? Wool and silk are highly preferred.
What do the motifs mean? Traditional Turkish carpets tell the story of the woman who weaved it. This may be about her family, or a joyful or sorrowful event that took place in her life.
How do I care for the carpet? Different materials may require different methods of care, so make sure to ask this before leaving the store.
Do you cover shipping costs? With the current luggage restrictions, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to take a carpet on the plane with you. Many reputable stores offer shipping services and cover the costs. Make sure you know how shipping will be handled before you buy.
Things that may go through your mind when buying a carpet:
Will the colors fade? Naturally dyed carpets will fade less and more beautifully than ones with chemical dyes. High-quality Turkish carpets almost always feature natural dyes. But be careful about where you place your carpet in the house, because overexposure to sunlight will cause the colors to fade more rapidly.
What should I expect to spend? This really depends on the size, the age, the material, whether it’s made with natural dyes, and also how intricate the carpet is. The more knots per square meter, the more expensive. The price could start at $150 and go all the way up to thousands of dollars.
Should I go to the Grand Bazaar to buy a carpet? If you’re in Istanbul for a short time, it would be more reasonable to shop at the Grand Bazaar, because you’ll get to do some sightseeing and visit a variety of carpets shops all in the same area. If you’re not time-restricted, take your time and explore the various carpet shops outside of the Grand Bazaar as well.
Should I bargain? Yes, always, but in a humorous and respectful fashion.
Is it going to look good in my living room? This is really important. Think about where you may put the carpet, what kind of furniture you have, the color scheme of the room, and make a decision based on all these factors.
The most important question of all:
How do I know if I’m getting a fair deal? Unfortunately, many stores do sell fake Turkish carpets that are in fact made in China. Even if you’re in the profession, it’s hard to tell the exact value of a carpet with the naked eye. Carpets are much like diamonds in that sense. That’s why your safest bet is to buy a carpet from a trusted shop. And that’s why we’ve listed some of the best and most trustworthy carpet shops in Istanbul so you can pick what your heart desires (and what your budget allows) without worrying about having a fast one pulled on you.
The Guide Istanbul-approved carpet stores in Istanbul:
Çınar Halı: From classic to retro to modern, you’ll find a wide range of high-quality hand-woven silk and wool carpets. They carry a very small selection of antique carpets as well. Nuruosmaniye Caddesi No. 83, Cağaloğlu; T: (0212) 513 83 17
Dhoku & Ethnicon: These two sister stores sell beautiful patchwork carpets and kilims. At Dhoku, you’ll find modernized versions of antique Anatolian rugs and kilims, patchworked to create something new and modern. At Ethnicon, you’ll find more contemporary but still ethnic patchwork rugs. Takkeciler Sokak No. 58-60, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 527 68 41
Gördes: Located just steps away from the Grand Bazaar, Gördes Halı sells not only carpets but also gold and silver jewelry, watches, Iznik tiles, and leather goods. With its massive showroom, Gördes offers a wide range of carpets, including antique Oushak and Yastık Turkish carpets, as well as dyed carpets and a range of textiles. Bab-ı Ali Caddesi No.3/A, Cağaloğlu; T: (0212) 514 23 04
Hakan Evin: A third-generation shopkeeper, Hakan Evin is a passionate carpetseller whose store is located in the Grand Bazaar. With a long list of loyal customers, both local and foreign, Evin has a made a name in the Bazaar for selling high-quality Turkish and Persian carpets. Divrikli Caddesi No. 57-59, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 512 74 63
Hazal Halı: Just steps from the lovely baroque mosque in Ortaköy, Hazal Halı offers a remarkable selection of unique antique Anatolian kilims and carpets, storage bags,pillows, old Caucasian kilims and soumaks and old Uzbek kilims for every budget. The shop is run by the elegant Engin Demirkol, who has spent almost two decades carefully choosing each of her pieces with a knowledgeable eye toward quality and uniqueness. Mecidiyeköy Köprüsü Sokak No.9, Ortaköy; T: (0212) 261 72 33
Nakkaş: One of Sultanahmet’s most well-respected carpetsellers, what sets Nakkaş apart is their massive collection of carpets, which spans a wide range of styles and designs to suit any taste and budget. This massive store has different showrooms dedicated to various styles of carpets, both antique and contemporary, while the basement is an amazing sixth-century Byzantine cistern that has been carefully restored and now serves as an exhibition space for Turkish artists. Nakkaş offers the biggest selection of traditional silk Hereke carpets in traditional patterns as well as original yet classic designs. For collectors, they offer a wide range of antique carpets from Anatolia, Persia, and Central Asia. There is also a unique selection of contemporary designs, fashionable patchwork carpets, and carpets in ikat, suzani, and geometric patterns. Nakilbent Sokak No.33, Sultanahmet; T: (0212) 516 52 22
Recep Karaduman: Recep Karaduman has been in the carpet business since 1966, and has been collecting one-of-a-kind kilims and carpets since then. The collection at the store, located on Takkeciler Sokak in the Grand Bazaar, mainly features carpets and kilims that Karaduman has collected during his travels all over Anatolia. In addition, you’ll find few pieces from Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Balkans. Each piece in the collection is made with natural materials, such as wool, cotton, and goat’s hair. Takkeciler Sokak No.54, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 528 66 11
Şişko Osman: Widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on Turkish kilims, Şişko Osman is now a fourth-generation family business. You’ll find a wide selection of carpets and kilims chosen from all over the country, and a wide price range. One of the best-known names in the bazaar, Osman also has his own private collection in the store, containing some priceless items from Turkey and beyond. Zincirli Han No.15, Grand Bazaar; T: (0212) 528 35 48