Volume VI Number 1
January 1988

G. A. Olivier's Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman, L'Egypte et la Perse, l793--l797 (1) has the charm of being the last of the grand old French accounts. Its itinerary is the vintage Near East tour: the Levant, the Islands, Ottoman Turkey, and Kajar Persia. The six volumes hold a considerable sprinkling of information concerning textile production, marketing, and consumption.

Olivier makes the general observation that Persians, especially those of Yazd, Cashan, and Isfahan, excel in the making of embroidered silk, velvet, taffeta, satin, and "all the silk stuffs which we know." (V, p. 86) The manufactures of Casvin and Teheran are described:

"Casbin serves as warehouse for the silks of Guilan and of Chyrvan, destined for the interior of Persia, for Baghdad and even for Surate.... they make there silk stuffs, several fabrics of cotton and a great deal of rugs.

"Up to today the industry of Teheran is very strongly limited: they make there rugs of felted wool, which are in general use in all Persia, and which serve the same functions as those handsome piled rugs which we bring back with us from these regions. They make them in all sizes, be it to furnish apartments, or be it to serve as a bed for travellers or to make thereupon various daily prayers. They don't last as long as the others, and also are neither as costly, although made with the finest wool of the country. These felted rugs are variously colored: the largest number, however, is of a grey-reddish all over, with a design in the middle and about the four corners." (V, p.93)

Casvin's trade route role for nearby silk districts is plausible, and its rug-making activity at this time is of interest. Teheran production bespeaks a continuing manufacture of high grade felt. And felt prayer rugs are still in use.

The text also presents a generalized Persian apartment description in which felts are prominent: "The first of the rugs which one puts on the floor, is a very thick and sturdy felt; the second is that which we know under the name of Persian rug. Often one puts [down] only the one of felt: for this purpose they make them very fine and very handsome." (V, p. 259)

Olivier portrays Cashan as a bustling, thriving city, describing its products as ". . .a great amount of silk stuffs, many fabrics of cotton: they make there all sorts of copperware; they work there also exceedingly well [in] gold, silver and steel." (V, p. 169) Thus, possibly, no carpets.

He is inclined to place things in historical context: (1) Isfahan saw an enormous weakening of its industry and commerce after Nadir Shah and his successors; (2) the richer Armenians fled at the end of Nadir Shah's reign, and Isfahan's commerce was "almost nil today"; (3) "Although the royal manufactories stopped working on those handsome rugs of silk and wool where gold and silver played a part, the art isn't lost; it will reappear when tranquility will be completely reestablished, and commerce will again take up all its activities." (V. p. 180, p. 305) A faint inference here may be that metallic thread might have been still employed in the second quarter of the 18th century.

There is a good juxtaposition of Cashmere and Kerman shawls, including the observation that every Persian wears one or the other for a belt, with those of Cashmere qualitatively superior and costing anywhere from two and a half to six times the former. (IV, p. 447; V, p. 261) Baghdad is identified as a transshipment point for Cashmere shawls (IV, p. 446) "which spread throughout Turkey", at an annual valuation of a million piasters, which by his price data is on the order of 13,000 pieces. Cashmere shawls are described as being made of a mixture of belly wool (duvet) and Tibetan camel wool (IV, p. 446) and those of Kerman and a lesser Yazd production as being made of camel wool (V. p. 305).

Olivier also passed through West Persia. While Senna is termed a considerable place, it is characterized as subordinate to Kermanshah. Regrettably, these two locations and Hamadan ("one of the most considerable [cities] of Persia") are unaccompanied by manufacturing or commercial description. (V, p. 33, p. 46, p. 51)

For Turkey, there are limited woven product descriptions in and around Constantinople. Both general and specific comments are made which combine mats and rugs as standard floor covering. Some of the mats come from Egypt ("a fine mat") and others from Persia ("several small ones"). ( I, p. 150) "Rush mats" from Ghilian and Mazanderan are identified as a Persian export to Turkey. (V, p. 320)

Rug manufacture in the Konya area, population 10-12,000, is put in Konya itself ("a few rugs resembling those of Persia"); at "Asheer" ("a few quite handsome rugs"); and in a recently ("for a few years") revitalized Kara Hissar. (VII, p. 393, p. 396) The rugs and other items are exported through Smyrna, characterized as the principal point of trade with Europe.

Other place-specific data include a quite detailed Baghdad manufactures listing: striped stuffs of silk and cotton, heavy silk stuffs or filoselle coming from Gilian (for shirts), loose fabrics of cotton (heavy, patterned materials); thick fabrics of printed cottons (for mattresses), a few leather goods, and especially rectangles of silk velvet, striped and with borders (for cushions and sofas). (IV, p. 425)

In the Levant an Alexandria mosque is described: "The interior was furnished in mats, rugs, and the periphery was decorated with padding and cushions forming a Turkish divan". (III, p. 50) This description is a close parallel of other mosque depictions of 150 years earlier.

A felt industry is also cited: "They also make, in the surroundings of Aleppo, some felted rugs, not colored, to which we helped ourselves, on leaving this city, to wrap up our beds, our mules and all the effects which we wanted to protect from rain; but they were not comparable to those of Persia for fineness, suppleness and tightness: it's the finest material next to the thickest calmouk [Kalmuk]. The ones cost from twenty to thirty piasters, and the others one and a half or two piasters."(V, p. 93)

The Olivier account closes the 18th century. He -- along with such predecessors as Tournefort, Chardin, Tavernier, and Thevenot -- has left the rug world a rich legacy.


  1. Olivier, G. A., Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman, L'Egypte et la Perse, Paris, 1800. Text references appear by volume and page and are inserted parenthetically. Research Report translations.
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