Volume 3  Number 2
March 1985

Not only do travellers visit mosques, shrines, and tombs, but they also note religious artifacts. The most important of these probably is the matter of Shiah Karbala "stones." Other observations, however, add to the picture of religiosity, such as Morier's remarking the association of feathers with the death of Hussein and their presence at the Ardebil tomb (1), an observation of more than of idle interest, given their appearance along with a lion as a design motif on an Azerbaijan rug. (1) Other instances illustrate Islam's dictum of a mere clean space for prayer, with Baddeley and Abercromby each indicating piebald calfskin as a choice of the Daghestan mountaineers of the 1890's (2). Olufsen placed caftans and cummerbunds in similar use by Bukhara inhabitants at the turn of the century; (3) Sandys, much earlier, notes the same application of "upper garments" in Turkey. (4)

Travellers also make, so to speak, reverse religious observations; here are two curious instances:

Percy Sykes (active, 1890--1920) on rug motifs. "...those in which the design, reflecting the Sunni austerity, is limited to geometrical and angular forms, such as the Turkoman carpets with their bazuband or 'armlet' pattern." (5)

K. K. Phalen (1909), "Wonderful old Bukharian carpets, either in the typical brown colour or woven in the famous Kaaba pattern..." (6)

Sykes gives "bazuband" as an octagonal box for the safe-keeping of a page of the Koran. While an imputation of object on the look-alike principle is ever too simpleminded, today or yesterday, these two conjectures do serve as a reminder that rug design device origins are a matter of the distant past, for if rug art is anything, it is conservative. Who, indeed, is able to demonstrate that 19th century speculation is any less valid than that of the 20th?

The Phelan and Sykes apparent misperceptions also stand as cautionary note for all travel accounts' religious descriptions; while worthy of serious consideration, in the end they are necessarily secondary to that which is indicated by indigenous materials, for the Western eye, although it does remark what the native may not notice, ever contains a mote.


  1. Wright, Richard E., Rugs and Flatweaves of the Transcausus, Pittsburgh, 1980, Plate 48.
  2. Abercromby, J.A., Through the Eastern Caucasus, London, 1889, p. 155; Baddeley, John, Rugged Flanks of Caucasus, Vol. 1, London, 1940, p. 109.
  3. Olufsen, 0., The Emir of Bukhara and His Country, London, 1911, p. 373.
  4. Sandys, George, Purchas His Pilgrimes, Vol. 9, Ch. VIII, 1904 reprint, p. 131.
  5. Sykes, Percy, A History of Persia, London, 1921, p. 203.
  6. Phalen, K. K., Mission to Turkestan, London, 1964, p. 15/16.