Wandkarte der Teppichgebiete
A remarkable visualization of well-known carpet regions in the Middle East and Central Asia, produced at the height of the ‘Persian rug craze’.
This stunning and unusual thematic map focuses on the distribution of rug-production in the Middle East and Central Asia. It extends from Turkey and Egypt in the west, to the borders of India, China, and Tibet in the east. In doing so, it encompasses an array of cultures in which hand-woven colorful carpets constitute a timeless and ubiquitous mode of decoration.
This map would have been an excellent tool for people planning and executing carpet-buying trips in the 1930s. Traveling long distances in order to acquire particular goods for one’s estate was not an uncommon pastime of the post-Victorian age, and the map demonstrates this trend on several different levels. For those with cultural inclinations, the map includes important ruin-fields (Ruinenstädte) such as Persepolis as a bonus.
The map has subdivided all of Western Asia into distinct carpet-producing regions, giving each a color code for easy distinction and identification. Even though the legend suggests these to be state borders (Staatsgrenzen), the subdivisions do not reflect political realities of the age.
Rather, its main purpose is the subdivision of the region into different categories. Each region embodies a number of weaving and patterning traditions that have crystalized into distinct and nameable carpet-styles. Most of these would only have been vaguely familiar to buyers, and so we must imagine that this map primarily was commissioned as support material for the sale of Oriental rugs and carpets in the German-speaking world. That said, it also contains a number of elements to suggest that may also have been intended for buyers, but to this we shall return.
Looking at the map, each region is distinguished from its neighbors by color-coding the borders and naming it in thick black lettering. As is usually the case with maps, they are products of a specific time and usually embody a specific ambition or desire. In this case, the global upheaval that came in the wake of World War I is elegantly avoided through a focus on regional differences in aesthetics and craft.
Often the styles and nomenclature of carpets can be more or less directly connected with the ethnic groups producing them. It is therefore not surprising that Baluchistan (Beludschistan) is distinct from the rest of India, Britain’s greatest colony in the early 20th century, or that Soviet-controlled Central Asia simply is referred to as Turkestan. Current political affiliations just are not relevant here.
Being a large wall-map and using exclusively German place-names (e.g. Jesd = Yazd), there is little doubt that the primary purpose of this impressive map was mounted display. That said, this map is sectioned on original linen and folds into its original portable case; thus, it clearly has a cartographic purpose as well, and may well have been used by dealers and other buyers intent on finding their own way. The obvious demarcation of major carpet producing centers using large red dots is one indication of the map’s functional dimension. This not only allows the viewer to find specific places of production, but also permits one to gauge the density of varying traditions in a given region (e.g. it is clear that regions like Persia and Turkey have greater variety than say Arabia or Egypt).
The map’s legend offers limited and somewhat misleading information on what the dots actually constitute, noting them as ‘Capital cities and important carpet-areas’ (Hauptstädte und wichtige Teppichorte). While not necessarily capitals, they do designate the major production centers, as well as the most important market-cities for rugs and carpets (e.g. Mecca and Damascus). Urban markets did not just offer quantity and variety; they were important for the re-distribution of a commodity that was essentially rural in origin. Minor centers have also been included as smaller black dots, but have not merited mention in the legend.
The map features the two most important commercial pathways in the carpet supply chain: railways (Eisenbahn) and caravan routes (Karawanewege). Railways were the most efficient way for foreigners to move across land. The large number of caravan routes marked on the map reflects the fact that as late as the early 20th century, many people in carpet producing regions were still relying on pack-animal caravans in order to move products over large distances. These caravan routes zigzagged the entire region, many of them in operation since antiquity. The most important have been included on the map, and many of these would by the 1930s already have begun the process of being converted into roads for motorized traffic.
Even though this map clearly was meant as a visualization of the region that produces some of the most exquisite carpets and rugs in the world, its functional parameters should not be overlooked. It gives you an idea about where specific carpet styles are made and traded, as well as how to get there yourself. We are, in other words, dealing with a map that may have been used primarily as a visual aid in a fancy shop in Vienna, but which also could have served as an efficient buyer’s guide in the field. The key to understanding this map thus lies in appreciating the clear delineation of different carpet making areas in one impressive chart.
Carpets and rugs have been traded and used in the Middle East and Central Asia for millennia. Because the production of carpets not only requires finely-honed skills and expensive dyes and machinery, but also an enormous amount of time and dedication, these were often valuable commodities, marketed to the upper echelons of society. Luscious and enormous carpets adorned the palaces of Babylonian Kings and Persian Shahs, often seeing the wool and silk thread laced with gold or embroidering gemstones for additional wow-effect. Yet carpets and rugs were not only for the wealthiest, they were also functional objects, serving as mobile beds, serving spaces, saddles, or prayer rugs.
At the time this map was produced (c. 1930s), using Oriental carpets for interior decoration had moved beyond the great houses of European aristocracy and into to the homes of a growing class of entrepreneurs, investors, and industrialites. Demand was exploding and from Persia to Piccadilly, industrious individuals seized the opportunities this presented. The importation of carpets was increasingly streamlined, commercial catalogues were printed and announcements taken out in magazines. Carpet shops had of course been around in the Middle East for ages, but in the great cities of Europe this was an entirely new phenomenon. It is in this context that we must appreciate this extraordinary map. The nature of this context makes many of the items produced within it rare, as they were often produced independently and printed in small numbers.
Dissected and mounted on linen and stores in a cloth case with gilt title on cover. The folding map has a few faint stains and a small manuscript notation in Persia. The case has moderate wear, light staining, and some sunning.
1931 Handbuch des Teppichhandels. Über verschiedenste Bereiche des Teppich-Handels samt nütlicher Tabellen u. einem ausführlichen Wörterbuch der Teppich- und Möbelstoffkunde. Verlag der Teppich Börse, Wien.