Antique Oriental Rug Spotlight: Caucasian Rugs, Part One

When the Almighty Spirit first created the Earth, he made the land completely flat. Looking down at his creation, he was satisfied with his work, except for the fact that there were no mountains. So he loaded up an enormous sack with innumerable rocks and boulders, and sped down to distribute them across the surface of the Earth.

As the Almighty Spirit was approaching the planet, his enemy, the Evil One, accompanied by three cohorts – famine, pestilence and hardship – appeared behind him, and slashed open the bag full of mountains. The colossal rocks and boulders tumbled down to Earth, and landed one on top of the other on a narrow strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus.

In his anger, the Almighty Spirit issued forth a stern warning to the Evil One; that under no circumstances would he ever be allowed to enter the land of the Caucasus. “For,” as he gravely said, “after what has happened every day of living will be hard enough.”

No better impression of the physical environment of the Caucasus Mountains, where Caucasian antique rugs where made, can be depicted than from this traditional Caucasian folktale. Bordering Iran to the North, the Caucasus ranks among the most grandiose and hostile landscapes in the world. Here lies a single narrow ridge of mountains stretching 400 miles east to west and containing twelve peaks higher than the tallest in the Alps, along with numerous glaciers and tumbling gorges that rival those of the Himalayas. The mountains are climaxed by Mt. Elbruz, towering to 18,493 feet above sea level. Here, in Greek legend, the god Zeus chained Prometheus for eternity as punishment for delivering fire to man.

For centuries, the Caucasus has provided refuge for the nomadic peoples, creators of tribal antique rugs, who were forced to go there after being driven out of more hospitable areas. Before the purges of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, approximately 350 different tribes resided in the Caucasus, speaking over 150 distinct languages. Along with the Moslem Lesghis, Chechen, and Talish, there were clans of Mountain Jews, Christian Armenians, Buddhist Kalmucks, Norsemen and even a group of Württemburg Germans. These mountain peoples were known both for their spirited sense of independence and their longevity, with many tribal elders apparently living decades past one hundred years. One clan, the Circassians, were noted for the great beauty of their women, who were sometimes either stolen or traded, breeding their olive complexions, striking eyes and distinguished countenances into the ruling families of Turkey.

The existence of the Caucasian tribesperson depended entirely on his ability to cultivate a simple innovativeness of lifestyle, along with a deep understanding of the natural forces which governed him. He learned to find strength and inspiration for the antique Oriental carpets he created in the harsh, yet majestic mountain surroundings. By living a life of almost continuous physical activity, he learned to tap into the instinctive nature hidden in man to guide him.

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