Bulgaria’s Magic Carpets
Bulgaria has a long history when it comes to carpet weaving. The art of making colourful, yet practical carpets began long before the Ottoman Turks invaded and conquered the country. Today, the tradition of crafting unique, quality carpets by hand continues in some of the country’s most far flung villages. Yet it is no longer an industry confined to supplying local villagers with flooring; Bulgarian carpets are now exported all over the world.
The durability of a real Bulgarian carpet is quite incredible and they are said to last a lifetime even if they are on floors with high traffic. Some carpets though are used purely for decoration as wall hangings because their colourful intricate designs, each with their own meaning are sometimes too beautiful to use for the purpose for which they were intended. Bulgarian carpets are still made from either goat’s or sheep’s wool, with sheep’s wool being the material most favoured by weavers because of its softness. In terms of techniques very little has changed in the way the carpets are made now compared to 500 years ago; possibly the biggest change is the type of dye used. Whereas the wool used to be dyed with vegetable dyes, today synthetic colouring is used.
In this tiny little village in the central part of the eastern Balkan Range, local women craft works of art on old looms in their homes. The carpets or kilims as they are called in the carpet trade are extremely cheap to buy when you consider the workmanship that goes into them. They are made to many different designs and décor and it is even possible to specify your own style. The first Jeravna carpet was made in around 1780 and today the oldest kilim available from this region hangs in Sofia’s National History Museum. It was made by Ergen Noniovitsa in 1820 and it is now classed as a national work of art. Jervana carpets contain a variety of different designs but broadly they fall into two categories; geometrical motifs and natural floral designs. Each design has a special meaning which has been passed down from generation to generation over many years. Some of the most popular designs include the “Tree of Life,” which symbolizes rebirth and longevity. “Horns of Animals” is a design signifying power. “Hands on Hips” is the design most associated with the Mother of God and fertility. The “Hanging Candle” is a design synonymous with the light of God and eternity.
Chiprovtsi is a small town in the north west of the country close to the border with Serbia. For many it is seen as the birthplace of the Bulgarian carpet and the carpet making industry remains one of the town’s main industries. Carpets are designed to original patterns and to customers own specifications. It takes around 50 days for the craftsman to complete a kilim of around 3 m × 4 m. Chiprovtsi carpets have received international acclaim having been exhibited all over Europe including at exhibitions in Paris and London. Weaving has been passed through generations and there are many traditions associated with weaving; a long time ago, when a rug was completed the waver’s daughter or granddaughter used to lie in the carpet and family members gently rocked her from side to side in it to make sure that the girl would grow up to be a good carpet weaver like her ancestors.
Chiprovtsi carpets differ from other region’s carpets in that they are usually always made from wool are made from wool and are intertwined on both sides. They are made on small looms called stans. The designs are colourful and geometric, with a contemporary style. The Karakachka, or “Black-eyed Bride” is the most popular pattern from this area; the pattern was conceived in the 18th century and it is a red-on-black or black-on-red design, which allegedly looks a lot like a girl carrying two buckets of water. There are many other common Chiprovtsi designs like “the Chickens”, “The Vines” and “The Flower Pots.” These natural designs are said to represent natures gifts to man.
Rhodope Mountain Carpets
Carpets made in the Rhodope Mountains are not nearly as popular as those made in other parts of Bulgaria, however they are extremely warm and often used as blankets rather than carpets. They are usually made from goat’s wool and are natural in colour. In days gone by they were used for warmth by revolutionaries who camped in the mountains hiding from the Ottoman Turks.
Kotel, the museum town in central Bulgaria is world famous for its handcrafted carpets. Carpet production here is believed to go back far beyond that of any other region in the country and has its own weaving school. Kotel carpets are made on vertical looms and it usually takes around three months to weave one carpet. Its Chergi are particularly renowned. They are colourfully striped long, thin rugs that are used as runners. Sometimes they are sewn together to make a bigger carpet. Other styles, which are popular, are Guberi, which are the tufted rugs and Postelki, which are used as blankets. Kotel carpets are famous for the fact that they are usually only made from four colours, blue, black, red and green. They often contain diamond patterns, which symbolize the moon, stars and sun. Other designs are constructed from triangles. They represent images like the fight between good and evil. The most famous designs are “The Trays” and “The Crosses.” Carpets made with the trays design was made when the weaver had their first child, whilst a carpet with the crosses design was given as a Christening gift for the weaver’s grandchild.
Kotel carpets are sold all over the world and many say that they are as good as a Persian carpet. The carpets can be purchased from the weavers in the town and different designscan be seen at the local Carpet Museum, which is housed in the Galata School.