- Istanbul, known in the early Christian era as Constantinople, was the center of the medieval world dating back to 330 AD, and crossroads for East-West trade for centuries. During the Ottoman era, Istanbul would reign as the jewel of the East and would see a golden era ushered in under Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and his chief architect, Mimar Sinan.
Istanbul is the largest and most developed city in Turkey, hosting a population of somewhere around twenty million. I believe it is also the only city in the world that straddles two continents – Europe and Asia.
I’m in Istanbul for less than 2 hours when I’m sucked into the carpet shop across the street from the hotel. I had studied the process of rug buying and was planning to buy a small kilim. Their rep outside says, “This is a good place to start, they can show you how carpets are woven and how to buy a good carpet”. I step inside, accept a glass of tea, and am ushered upstairs to the showroom. I brace myself for the process that is about to begin. Little did I realize how ill-equipped I was.
I ask for a specific rug style from a specific region, in a specific size. “I just want to show you larger carpets” says Mustafa, the owner, “so you can be better educated.”
About thirty carpets are laid out on the floor, one atop the other. I point to six that I am interested in and they are set aside. Mustafa has his assistant lay “his favorite rug” on a black velvet board. The thing is in shreds. Lunch is ordered despite my objections.
I narrow my choices to three rugs, all of very similar ‘tree of life’ pattern, and ask him to tell me more about them as I gingerly bite into a kebab roll that has arrived on a silver platter. Of the three rugs, the one that has my greatest attention is a beautiful prayer rug, 90 years old, with five borders and a tree of life pattern. The wools are dyed with saffron, cochineal and indigo and loosely woven rather than knotted. It’s time to negotiate the price.
My taste in Anatolian kilims is exquisite. The cost on this one is US $48,000…
I put my sandwich down, which Mustafa correctly interprets as an end to this conversation. He tries to convince me to purchase but after several painful minutes I stand up. We shake hands, and I exit the building, chagrined from the experience.
I shake the bruises from my ego, find a cash machine, and head towards the Grand Bazaar.