History and origin of Tunisian carpets

History and origin of Tunisian carpets

Tunisia has been famous for its textiles since the Berber period, so the Berber carpet was known with an accuracy of 10 * 10.

The carpet called Pazriq, made in 5 BC, was found.. It is now preserved in the St. Petersburg Museum, as was mentioned in the carpet in a Roman reference when Emperor Diocletian determined the year 305 AD. The price of an African carpet was 1500 dinars or a dang.

The carpet was used to furnish Arab palaces and luxurious residences since the pre-Islamic era. And Islam strengthened its position by mentioning it in the Qur’an (Surah Al-Ghashiya, verse 16), “with rugs and carpets arranged” as one of the furnishings of Paradise.

In the Aghlabid era, the Kairouanian carpet was part of the kharaj directed to Damascus and Baghdad. In the following eras, travelers ‘and historians’ books indicated the use of many types of textiles and furnishings in palaces, homes and among the tribes, including prayer carpets, furnishings, horse carpets, bathroom carpets, and divan carpets.

The documents proved the existence of carpets trade from Tunisia to Europe, so that the Portuguese used to send carpets of Tunisian origin to their African colonies. All these evidences confirm the prosperity of the textile industry in Tunisian cities and villages over the ages. In the first half of the 19th century, the roots of Tunisian skills in ancient customs and their opening to external contributions resulted in a new Tunisian fabric inspired by oriental furnishings and impregnated with regional and tribal peculiarities, and embodied in a Sufi carpet with a knot and a straight cut, woven on the face on a vertical loom. It relies on knot techniques and its decoration is inspired by Anatolian motifs, which confirms its Turkish origin.

img1.Kairouanian red carpet with alloucha model

The Kairouanian carpet

At first the carpet was the preserve of Kairouan, then it spread throughout the country, replacing velor textiles. The authentic Kairouanese carpet is a coarse textile made of natural or dyed wool, which is distinguished in its appearance by a border consisting of parallel stripes with floral or geometric motifs. This margin is in the middle of a rectangular area with corners.

In the middle of this hexagonal field is a diamond-shaped mihrab. This archetype leaves the freedom of creativity for the craftswomen to enlarge a border, fine-tune a name, embellish a flower or mihrab, surround the edges with a delicate ribbon, or fill in the middle field with various decorations.

The Kairouanian carpet was imitated in the regions of the country, where the legend of the teacher coming from Kairouan was repeated with work. The sources of regional influence varied, and other forms were established and removed according to the needs of the market and the requirements of fashion. The Bizerte tradition remained distinguished by the publication of structured and coordinated decorations in place of the rectangular field or by the repetition of a regular shape by squares or designations that reproduce detail from the Kairouanese pillars or other parts of the border.

Parallel to the Kairouanian model, the faded and bright colors were varied according to the craftsmen’s imagination and the availability of dyes.

img 2.Contemporary Modern Hand Woven Tunisian Area Rug

However, the misuse of imported synthetic dyes damaged the quality of the carpet, which prompted the Kairouanese family to devise a new model known as the aloucha and restore the natural color palette of sheep’s wool from white to black, passing through gray, brown and donkey.

The carpet is a source of livelihood for several urban or rural families, production and trade. Therefore, three years after independence, the National Bureau for Handicrafts sent encouraging, supporting, forming and promoting its centers distributed over the regions.

Today, the carpet weaving is a technical observer activity that has undergone profound changes in the level of work organization and manufacturing techniques to achieve high quality thanks to the development of primitive looms, component processing, improvement and adaptation of wool, and the establishment of technical standards for production and organized training.

Organized or home production enjoys state assistance and is subject to a sealed and affixed Quality Mark to the back of the carpet, which includes data on type, quality, accuracy, size, model and date of manufacture.

Thus, the Tunisian carpet increased from 000. 000 knots per square meter (20 * 20 resolution) to 000. 250 knots (50 * 50 resolution). The middle rugs (30 * 30) and (40 * 40) remained in demand in the market. The Tunisian craftsmanship went beyond the production of the woolen carpet to the production of silk carpets, comparing it to the oriental carpets.

The new products benefited from innovations inspired by heritage and responding to the tastes of customers. For example, the Berber motifs were replaced by modern motifs.

Thus, production and marketing have doubled, both for the carpets made with modern machines (in Tunisia), or for the traditional carpets that are manufactured in organized workshops, in homes and through handling.

This is confirmed by the Bureau’s references for the year 1996. The printed national production of the carpet has reached 384 thousand square meters in relation to the converted area, with an accuracy of 20 * 20.


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