Volume 3  Number 2
March 1985

Henry Maundrell wrote luxuriant prose, and was one of those travellers who got beyond the bazaar. While it is a fabric which deserves attention, his entire description of a holy place near Ottoman Tripoli is rich with the flavor of the times:

"They are stone Fabricks [structures], generally six or eight Yards square (more or less) and roofed with a cupola; erected over graves of some prominent Shecks, that is [those with] the reputation of learning and Saints.. .To these Oratories the people repair with their Vows and Prayers and we were admitted to see his tomb, though held by the Turks in great veneration. We found only a great wooden chest, erected over his grave, and covered with a carpet of painted calico, extending on all sides down to the ground. It was also trick'd up with a great many long ropes of wooden Beads hanging upon it, and somewhat resembled the furniture of a Button-makers Shop.. .This is the Turks usual way of adorning the Tombs of their holy Men, as I have seen in several other instances.. .The long strings of beads passing in this Country for marks of great devotion and gravity. In this Mosque we saw several large Incense Pots, Candlesticks for Alters, and other Church furniture, being the spoils of Christian Churches at the taking of Cypress." (1)

A fabric sarcophagus cover appears in other travel accounts, all in Persia: Olearius, 1636, at Seid-Ibraham's tomb in Shirvan, "a Carpet of yellow Damask" (2); Delle Valle, 1619, at the Ardebil Shrine, "rich silk" (3); Olearius, 1636, at Ardebil, "Crimson Velvet" (4); Chardin, c. 1673, at the tombs of Fatima, "gold cloth down to the floor", of Abbas I and Ismael, "rich Persian brocades attached to the floor by "gold braids", and of an obscure saint, "a red taffeta with gold flowers" (5); Morier, 1811, at Ardebil, "brocades and shawls" (6); and von Thielman, 1875, at Ardebil, "precious tapestry" (7). The weight of the observations seems to indicate the use of textiles, not carpets, as casket covers. An unexceptionable conclusion, perhaps, but interesting, for it adds a woven religious product, creating the triad of mosque and shrine carpets, sarcophagus covers, and prayer rugs.

This matter of coverings raises a related carpet point which deserves a little emphasis. In its heyday the establishment at Ardebil was a major feudal religious center. There is plenty of room to speculate as to the origins and intended repository of the two Ardebil carpets, but to suggest that the Shrine was not the intended site because it did not have room, literally, for large carpets is rubbish. The tomb chamber was within a complex of apartments adequate to contain large carpets, which they did.


  1. Maundrell, Henry, A Journey from Allepo to Jerusalem, at Easter, A.D. 1697, Oxford, 1732, p. 394.
  2. Olearius, Adam, Voyages and Travels of the Ambassadors, London, 1669, p.153.
  3. Delle Valle, Pietro, "The Travels Persia", in Pinkerton, Voyages and Travels, 1811, Vol. 9, p. 85.
  4. Olearius, Adam, op. cit., p. 179.
  5. Voyages de Chevalier Chardin in Perse, ed. L. Langles, Paris, (complete edition), 1811, Vol. II, p. 424, 435, 453, and Vol. VIII, p. 206.
  6. Morier, James, Second Journey Through Persia, London, 1818, p. 254.
  7. von Thielman, Max, Journey in Asia, London, 1875, Vol. 2, p. 60.