Return to table of contents
Volume VI Number 1
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:
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,
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.
- 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.