This article is a part of the project 'Promotion of the Ottoman Cultural Heritage of Bosnia and Turkey' which is organized by Monolit, Association for Promoting Islamic Arts and supported by the Republic of Turkey (YTB - T.C. BAŞBAKANLIK Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı / Prime Ministry, Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities).
Until the conquest of the Ottoman empire, 1963, Bosnia was very reputable European kingdom that experienced its peak at the time of the king Tvrtko I Kotromanic (1353-1377). The contact with the Ottomans and the oriental world in general occurred at least one hundred years before the official conquer and it was permeated with occasional war conflicts and frequent trade exchange, mainly of luxury goods from the East. In the Middle Ages, Europe was fascinated by fabrics that were coming from the Islamic world. The Persian carpets were particularly appreciated. They were imported in Bosnia mainly through the Dubrovnik port. In the will of the Bosnian nobleman Pribislav, there are six oriental carpets mentioned which he took with him in Italy while he was running away from Ottomans.
However, in medieval Bosnia, little is known about production of fabrics and rugs. The most famous were the rugs 'karpete' and blankets for the furniture, as they were considered a luxury product, while the rugs of simple design were broadly widespread. In general, the carpets in Middle Ages in Europe, in Bosnia as well, did not have the same meaning and application as they had on East regarding the different life culture. The covering of the home floors with one-face knotted carpet, like Persian one, was a real rareness.
KIlim, end of 19th century / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine
KIlims in the Buzadzi Hadzi Hasan Mosque / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine
The name ćilim (kilim) was brought in Bosnia by Ottomans and, at first, its meaning was the two-faces knotted kilim, but, later on, its meaning was also including the one-face knotted carpet whose origin was in Persia. With the arrival of Ottomans to Bosnia Bosnians were embracing Islam more and more and kilims become a very important segment of their culture of living. However, some forms of the carpets from the Middle Ages, as two-sides colourful rugs were still present, while kilims were used to decorate mosques and turbes. Kilims also became part of the rich families furniture, which became a rule with time, even at the middle class of the urban population. However, these changes in everyday life were only noticeable at houses of the Bosniak Muslims. The Serbian population, under Ottoman rule, did not have the carpets in their homes, not even their royalty. So, in the courts of the Serbian princes, even in the 19th century, the number of carpets was equal to the number of carpets in one wealthier Bosniak Muslim house.
Prayer Rug, Anadolia, 19th century / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine
The kilims were imported in Bosnia more and more as the big city centres were developed. First of all, this is referred to the supply of kilims and carpets to mosques, turbes and residential buildings. However, we do not have the exact data about covering the floors of the mosques at the early time. The first indications that Bosnian mosques had luxury carpets of larger sizes are from the data related to the carpets trade. Brusa Bezistan in Sarajevo, built in 1551 by the grand vizier Rustem Pasha, was named after the import of fabrics, silk and carpets from Bursa in Turkey. Considering everything, the needs for kilims in Sarajevo were huge, considering the fact that, in the mid 16th century, the city had 120 mosques.
The fact that kilim became a status among Bosniak Muslim nobility is documented by the travel writers. Thus, one of the members of the delegation of Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I, in 1530, wrote that near Sarajevo they were received by the Bosnian regent of Gazi Husrev Beg in his tent whose floor was covered with 'a very beautiful carpet'. Franciscan monk Pavle of Rovinj mentions that, in 1640, he was in Sarajevo where he saw a big carpet in one room in the court of one Ottoman defterdar. It was not uncommon that the Muslim prisoners of war were bought back with the carpets, and the practice of giving the carpets as the diplomatic gift was common practice. Probably most of the data about the presence of carpets among the wider class of Muslim population in Bosnia can be revealed in various documents, such as inheritance contracts, signing of personal belongings to waqf or the establishment of waqf property.
Among other things, the endowment documents contain the number of rugs and carpets that someone leaves behind and also, types of carpets and their financial value is mentioned. Thus, in the second waqfnama (the document for endowment) of Ćejvan Ćehaja from Mostar in 1558, among other things, is documented that he possessed a large number of mosque carpets and prayer rugs, namely: three prayer rugs, three large carpets, a smaller mihrab kilim, one carpet, five mihrab prayer rugs, a prayer rug for mihrab - halija, two big halija, another prayer rug for the mihrab, and four Egypt matting. This list is a good proof that the floors of the mosques in the mid 16th century were covered by high quality carpets. In this context, the legacies of the people from Bosnia mention also the Banja Luka Prayer Rug.
Sarajevo carpet manufacturer (Sarajevo ćilimara), the end of 19th - beginning of 20th century / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine
Banja Luka Prayer Rug presents the most original contribution of the Bosnian art to the world history of Islamic art. Inside of the typological categorization of the art of the carpets and textile, with famous Persian works included, Banja Luka Prayer Rug takes a significant place. Although the name might suggest that rugs were made in Banja Luka, there is no evidence for this, so the production of Banja Luka Prayer Rug can initially be connected to the wider area of Krajina, and later, when they became popular, to some other parts of Bosnia too. They were made at the end of 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century with an interesting mixture of stylish influences from Ottoman, European, Persian and even Indian schools of decorative art. The design technique was especially interesting, considering that those prayer rugs were not upholstered but embroidered in special way. They were made with combination of different fabrics, silk being the dominant fabric. Unfortunately, as far as it is known, not even one example of Banja Luka Prayer Rug was preserved in Bosnia. Today, they can be found in few museum collections in Turkey and USA, as well as in some private collections.
Prayer rug, begining of the 20th century / Photo © Islamic Arts MagazineAustro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina introduced reforms in the field of old crafts by establishing new schools and museum institutions that started engagement of gathering artistic treasures and the formation of collections. Certainly, the most famous museum is the National Museum, with its Ethnological Department that today has a huge collection of carpets and textiles from our country and worldwide. Based on the research of the market, the new government recognized that Bosnia has a big potential in the field of weaving industry, especially since that kind of craft was very active. Off course, there were also some technical limitations that could not withstand the time of industrialization, especially as carpet making was mostly present in rural areas.
The story of 'Bosnian carpet' as we know it today begins by the development of the private capital in our country and by opening the first contemporary equipped store in Sarajevo by the Vienna company 'Filip Has and Sons' in 1888. First it was a small workshop, but the government took it over in 1892, and modernized it. (Some data exists that show that the store was founded in 1879 and was taken over by the country government in 1888). The novelty was the modernization of the carpet production based on design matrixes that were now made by the trained decorators, while, from the technical side, the new machines for vertical waving, so that large format carpets could be woven. The idea was to create a new Bosnian product, named Bosnian carpet that would then become a recognizable brand. That occurred by fusion of already known Bosnian motives, than motives of oriental origin, especially the Anatolian ones (as well as other countries) and new designed matrices that would fit together. The result was the smooth 'Bosnian carpet' that we know today. With time, such carpet become the base of the production.
However, there was also a production of Gobelin tapestries as well as Persian carpets for which master decorators were commissioned even from Iran. Most of the production was directed for the local market, and the smaller part for the foreign markets. What can be said for sure is that those products were quality products and the carpet trade had its peak before the World War I when the production was in full swing. The hand woven carpets were still created after the World War I and right after the World War II. Later handmade carpets were replaced by machine production.