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Buying Turkish Rugs: How to Barter and Spot a Fake

Published by Mara Munro, Writer

País: Turkey

A Experiência

Even the most frugal of travellers usually end up with some sort of souvenir in their backpacks when they return home. Whether it’s a ticket stub from a music festival, or a hand-made piece of jewellery, chances are you'll come home with a treasure that encapsulates a unique travel experience. Looking for a particular souvenir can also become an adventure in itself, which is what happened while I was in Turkey. I ended up learning a ton about finding, bartering, and eventually buying your very own Turkish rug.
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The main difference between a rug and a carpet is the size: rugs being the smaller of the two. Turkish rugs (called “kilims”) are flat, tapestry-woven pieces found throughout the Balkans, and are easily identifiable by their signature geometric motifs. Kilims are flat (they have no pile), and are usually double-sided. The smaller ones were traditionally used as saddle blankets or prayer mats.
Authentic Turkish kilims are hand-made by women in Anatolia, which is the Eastern or Asian area of the country. Because Turkish kilims are traditionally produced by the nomadic peoples of the Taurus Mountains, they were often made of goat wool, or blended with sheep wool. In the past fifty years this has now changed to cotton. The signature geometric patterns of Turkish rugs represent many of the flora and fauna found in the mountains familiar to village life, such as tree leaves, running water, wolves, and the “evil eye”: an ever-present Turkish symbol. Hand-woven Turkish rugs are also inconsistent or imperfect in colour because the wool is hand-dyed, and thereby contains slight variations in shade. Before the appearance of chemical dyes coming into widespread use in the past fifty years, a variety of plants were used to create colour, such as indigo for blue, pistachio leaves for green, cherries or beets for red, and either eggplant skin or walnut for black.
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The first lesson to buying Turkish rugs is to get out of the big cities. Everything is more expensive in the city centres, and there are a lot more tourist traps and scams to beware of. Do not try to buy a Turkish rug in Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar. If you know that you will be buying a Turkish kilim on your trip, check out some prices to get a feel for what you would pay at home. If your main focus is aesthetic, then you will probably be attracted to machine-made Turkish rugs with synthetic dyes. There is nothing wrong with this, they are beautiful, but should cost you much less than the hand-made ones, especially if they are new. In contrast, handmade kilims may not look as stunning, given the duller and inconsistent natural colours, but they are richer in historic and social origin. With these basics in mind, I hopped on a bus and left Istanbul, confident of my ability to distinguish between an authentic kilim, and one that was factory made.
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I ended up in the small town of Selcuk, which sits just outside of the famous ruins of Ephesus, and set out to test my skills with the local rug traders, allotting a whole day to do so. Lesson number two: If you haven't already learned the art of bartering along your travels, you absolutely must when buying a Turkish rug. After scoping out a few shops, I found one that I liked, which meant I got a good gut feeling about the shop vendor, and their wares and general feel of the store looked authentic. It also pays to compare their prices with other shops. As is customary, you’ll be offered a seat on an amazing, huge carpet, and given cai (tea). After some small talk, and then a discussion of what you’re looking for (with no mention of your price range), you’ll likely go the back room to gaze upon the many Turkish kilims. This will be the most overwhelming and challenging part. They all looked amazing, once you see something you like, this is a good moment to start talking price and trying to match up your preference with the cost. Always be friendly, and offer 30%—50% less than the asking price. This will start the back and forth bartering, and it’s key to increase your offer only minimally each time to get the best price. If you can't come to an agreement, it’s okay to walk out. Sometimes the shop owner will change their mind and call out after you, "OK, OK, no problem!" Once you have settled on a price, it’s very bad taste to try to change it, so you should then discuss shipping services, packaging, and the details of how to care for your piece. My rug dealer took care of all the shipping details, paid the shipping taxes, and then, once the dealings were done, we celebrated with a few cans of Efes, the domestic beer, which is coincidentally named after the Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus, just around the corner.
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In the end, there is no precise or perfect price for a Turkish rug. As long as you feel satisfied with the price you paid, based on this knowledge, and had a good buying experience, it’s best to leave it at that. You will always find cheaper and more expensive rugs along the way, so be happy with the one you have, and rest assured that whether it’s hanging on your wall or cushioning your feet, it will be a treasured possession that will bring your trip back to life once you come home.

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Quando ir to Turkish Rug

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the oldest and the largest covered markets in the world, and has four main gates. It’s open from 9.00 a.m to 7.00 p.m Monday to Saturday, and can be reached by a 15-minute walk from the Aya Sofya/Blue Mosque area.
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Selcuk is the main town of the Sulcuk district, which is situated about 5km northeast of the Roman town Ephesus.

Odds n' Ends

The most durable kilims are made of 100% cotton. To check for synthetic material, get the shop keeper to burn a little piece off the end tassel. If it doesn't catch and burn, and then go hard once cold, you have pure cotton. Otherwise, it’s a synthetic blend.
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Inspect the knotting of the weave: the tighter the weave (smaller) knots, the higher the quality.
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To care for your kilim once at home, hand wash it in cold water with an extremely mild soap. Use a soft brush gently cleaning both sides. Do not hang to dry as this will deform it, but lay it in the sun on a clean patch of concrete or stone. To spot clean it, put some salt on the soiled area, and leave until the area is dry. Then using a soft brush to sweep away the salt.

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