Volume 5  Number 1
January 1987

In 1610 George Sandys noted that the floor of St. Sophia was furnished with "rewes of mats". Mosque floor coverings are regularly noted by other travellers, with mats conspicuous among them in the 17th century, thus:

Adam Olearius, c. 1637, of a mosque/tomb outside of Derbent. "...and the floor cover'd with Mat, for their convenience who came thither to do their devotions."(1)

John Thevenot, in 1655, on the seven royal mosques in Constantinople. "The floor of the Mosque is covered with covers and mats, so that the people may not be incommoded at all while praying." (2)

Robert de Dreux, on St. Sophia, Constantinople, 1668. "...prostrated themselves on the rugs which were spread through all the mosque..." (3)

Joseph Pitts, the first Englishman to visit Mecca and Medina, during part of a 15-year captivity spent largely in Ottoman Algiers, c. 1685, on mosques in general. "...the Area is a plain beaten floor, like the Floor of a Malt-House, spread all over with their Mats of Rushes; but near the Emaum with Carpets. Their Galleries they have likewise spread with the same." (4)

An excruciatingly detailed, interminable description of the St. Sophia mosque, by Grelot c. 1680, contains a listing of minor mosque functionaries. This includes "... the Klimgiler or Carpeteers, to whom is entrusted the care of carpets. The Kaimgilier...who must clean them often..." (5) The existence of such a position would be consistent with a carpet status of regular mosque furnishing.

These observations of matters Ottoman and Turkic suggest that 17th century floor coverings were a mixture of mat and carpet, with mats declining and carpets predominating toward the end of the century. If so, then the 17th century becomes a transitional period, and carpeting becomes, perhaps, a practice of the modern era. The time at which carpets came into general use as floor covering is of interest, obviously, as such period necessarily constitutes the earliest date which can be assigned to rugs found in mosques on the basis of their being there. Earlier dating would require other evidence.

The individual prayer carpet is noted in Ottoman Turkey by Thevenot (c.l660) (6) Rycault, however, (1664, "handkerchief" ) (7) and Sandys (1610, "upper garments") (8) when identifying things prayed upon did not mention rugs, but indicated other objects. From the travel accounts, there may be some question whether the prayer carpet was in general use at this time in Ottoman Turkey.

These matters of prayer rugs and of mosque mats and carpets need to be taken into account by any speculation involving saffs. Saffs are nowhere mentioned by 17th century travellers. Thevenot, a sharp-eyed observer, knew the prayer carpet and referred to mosque floor covering merely as "carpets". While a datum is not a statistic, his notations and the tenor of other accounts are cautionary about whether saffs were in use at this time, in Ottoman mosques and elsewhere.


  1. Olearius, Adam, Voyages and Travels of the Ambassadors, Second Edition corrected, London, 1669, p. 301.
  2. Thevenot, Jean, voyages de ..., Third (corrected) edition, Paris, 1727, Vol. I, p. 152. Research Report translation.
  3. de Dreux, Robert, Voyage en Turquie, republished and annotated, Hubert Pernot, Paris, 1925, P. 73. Research Report translation.
  4. Pitts, Joseph, Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mahommetans, Exon, 1704, p. 37.
  5. Grelot, William Joseph, Relation Nouvelle d'un voyage de Constantinople, Paris, 1680, p. 293. Research Report translation.
  6. Thevenot, Jean, Voyages de ..., Third (corrected) Edition, Paris, 1727, Vol. I, p. 156.
  7. Rycault, Paul, The Present State of the Ottoman Empire, Arno reprint, Press, New York, 1971, p. 159.
  8. Sandys, George, "George Sandys Journey", Purchas His Pilgrimes, Glasgow reprint, 1905, p. 131.