Volume IV Number 1
January 1986

The intrepid, skilled (Turkish-, Arabic-, Persian-speaking) Jean de Thevenot provides a datum concerning weaving in Cairo. Here follows a portion of his report on his visit there in late 1656:
"It seems to me that it is still an interesting matter to see carpets made, for fine ones are made at Cairo, in quantity, which they send to Constantinople and to Christianity, and they call them Turkey carpets: there are many who work, among them are several little boys, but who do all their work with such skill and speed, that one could hardly believe it; they have before them their loom, and hold in their left hand several ends of balls of wool of many colors, which they place each in their place; in their right hand they hold a knife, with which they cut the wool at every point which they touch with the knife. The master comes to them now and then with a pattern, and looking upon it, tells them, as if he were reading in a book, and yet faster than he could read, saying, so many points of such a color, and so many of such another, and other similar things, and they are not less quick at their work, than is he who reads." (1)

Thevenot reveals that there was workshop weaving in Cairo at the beginning of the second half of the 17th century, and by giving the export pattern demonstrates that these rugs were going into Europe. As for the term, Turkey carpet ("tapis de Turquie"), it is not clear from the text whose word it is. Taken literally ("on les appelle") it would be the locals, but a less literal, more plausible interpretation would argue that Thevenot had slipped out of Cairo particulars and was speaking generally, therefore in a European context.

There is a parallel use of nomenclature by another Near East veteran, John Chardin, at approximately the same time (c. 1670). Reporting, in his description of Persia, on carpet manufacture he notes:

    "Those of rugs are in the province of Kirman, and particularly in Sistan. These are those rugs which we call commonly in Europe, Turkey carpets, because it is by Turkey that they come, having been purchased in Persia, by the great sea." (2)

The item of Kirman and Sistan carpet manufacture is hearsay; Chardin was not there, so what he says should not be taken as fact. What is useful is his exegesis of the term, Turkey carpet. The likely case is that the late 17th century use of "Turkey carpet" means the same as does the late 20th century use of "Oriental rug". Underlying this matter of nomenclature are the facts that Chardin would have it that some of these carpets originated in Persia, and that Thevenot clearly places some of them in Cairo.


  1. Thevenot, Jean de, Voyages de M. de Thevenot au Levant, Third Edition, Amsterdam, p. 454/5. Research Report translation.
  2. Voyages du Chevalier Chardin, en Perse, Vol. IV, Paris, 1811, P. 154. Research Report translation.

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