Caucasian Rugs

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The country of Caucasian rugs lies between the black and the Caspian seas on both sides of the Caucasus Mountains, extending south to Iran and touching turkey on the southwest. The mountain range which gives this country its name extends for seven hundred miles from the sea of azof to the Caspian. The dariel pass, the only access route is flanked by 4,000 foot high cliffs. The pass is currently under Russian military jurisdiction and tightly controlled. The country is interesting and picturesque, with magnificent scenery, extensive forests, rich pasturage for sheep and large cultivated areas where food is raised for domestic consumption. Fine wool is produced and some cotton is raised. The people of these areas have an ancient history. Legends abound, among them that Jason and the search for the Golden Fleece, Colchis strand at the foot of the Caucasus, and Mount Kazbek is the scene of Prometheus’ sufferings. Wars and skirmishes proved to be a significant cultural influence so that remnants of warring tribes of various nations inhabit this country today. Alexander travelled northward to the dariel pass, as did pompey and Justinian. The turks conquered the native tribes and were later expelled under the leadership of David II, a Georgian prince. The twelfth century marks their glorious age, with Queen Tamara as their leader and idol. They succumbed to Genghis khan, to the Persians and, last, to Russia in 1859 after a struggle of twenty years under their chief, shamyl. Of the native people there are sixty or seventy different tribes, speaking different languages and dialects.

The art of rug weaving was most likely transmitted from the Persians, but as the geography of the area makes travel so difficult, the textile arts have developed with little outside influence. The Caucasian rugs have a distinct character making them readily distinguishable from most Persian, turkoman and Turkish rugs types.

These rugs have distinct geometric pattern on a clear ground with little or no shading. The modern Caucasian textiles, which have been only recently promoted by the Russian government after some twenty years’ lapse, are most exclusively geometric. They usually have one or more central medallions, geometric ornamentation in the centerfield, and on the borders. The colors of the finer pieces are muted tones. There are numerous Caucasian rugs currently marketed with very bright red, green and blue. However, it is generally felt that these rugs are of lesser quality than those with softer colors.

Almost every conceivable geometric form has been incorporated into the Caucasian carpets: the eight pointed star of the medes as well as the six-pointed star, the triangle, diamond, square, medallions of various shapes, tarantula, scorpion figures, and all-over fretwork. The “latch hook”, thought to be a modification of the swastika, is a common feature of rugs of this district and on account of its almost universal use, it has been called the trademark of the Caucasian rugs. The “barber-pole” stripe which is quite similar to that in turkoman rugs, is common to Caucasian border design. Another characteristic border design consists of motifs with saw-teeth on each side. When these represented with alternate goblet-shaped figures, the motif is said to represent the lotus in water. The countries of the trans-Caucasus, separated from Italy only by the river aras, reflect at times a distinct Persian influence, especially in the use of floral designs.

The names of the rugs of this district are not nearly as well-known as those of Persian

Origin. Rug making has never been as organized as in iran and the trade routes did not exist so as to promote production for export until more recent times. Generally, the rugs were made the people of the area for personal use. Not until the past twenty years has Russia encouraged production of carpets for commercial purpose. For some time the government suppressed rug weaving in favor of agricultural expansion. However, today, Caucasian carpets are becoming more readily available. They are actively supported by the government, and exports have grown considerably over the recent decade