The Mystery Surrounding Mamluk Carpets

Tradition & Function: Living Bridges in India

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The Mystery Surrounding Mamluk Carpets

History
The Mamluk Dynasty came to power in Egypt and Syria in the mid thirteenth century. By the 15th century, they had established a thriving carpet industry in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. These people originally came to the Middle East as slave soldiers from Turkic, Mongol and Circassian tribes in Central Asia. They were bought and trained by Arab rulers, converted to Islam, and turned into Elite palace soldiers. The word Mamluk actually translates to “owned”. Eventually, the Mamluks revolted and seized power for themselves, ruling for two centuries. They were warriors on a fierce level, and typically killed or replaced their own leaders every five years. Surprisingly or not, they were also huge patrons of art.

mamluk_sultan

Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri

The Mamluk era is often referred to as a “Renaissance of the Islamic Arts”. The rugs are thought to have a “sublime” quality and to be more than just fine carpets but sophisticated works of art symbolizing spiritual themes of unity. The geometric forms themselves are representational of simplicity and singularity, while the whole of the designs, many forms interconnected, are complex.

simonetti

This rug is named Simonetti after a former owner. It is one of the most famous Mamluk Carpets that exists, as well as one of the largest of its type. This rug has five medallions instead of the usual two or three. It also has a brighter color palette than most. It dates back to the year 1500, and is believed to have been made in Cairo, probably in a palace.

 double-field-mamluk
This rug has a double field with two medallion-like structures. One is eight-sided; the other eight-pointed. The “eight” theme appears in many Mamluks. 
In 1517, the Mamluk territories were conquered by the Ottomans. Mamluk carpet production continued after but the Mamluk people were commissioned by the Ottoman courts to produce rugs in the “Cairene” style which competed with the Persian rugs of that time. The Mamluk carpet production slowed quickly and eventually stopped altogether. There are only around 100 original Mamluk rugs left in the world. Only one remains in Cairo, and the rest are in museums. The museum pieces are not often displayed because it is feared that too much exposure to light will fade their colors. Today, rug makers all over the world seek to replicate and draw from the Mamluk style, particularly in Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Characteristics
Mamluk carpets are known for their lustrous wool, fine weave, and soft colors dominated by pale greens, yellows and reds. Their designs are distinctive-complex, large medallions made up of intersecting forms. These forms are based on the tradition of Islamic geometric ornament. The borders are made of oblong medallions or “cartouches”. A variation of the Mamluk called Paramamluk, features all over patterns of smaller hexagons, octagons and squares. These are often known as the “chessboard” carpets. The Paramamluk has been attributed to Damascus, which was a large center in the Syrian portion of the Mamluk realm. One instantly noticeable characteristic of the mamluk carpets is that they appear totally mathematical and at the same time, totally mystical, similar to the existence of the rugs themselves.

chess
Paramamluk or “Chessboard” Carpet, origin unknown, 15th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art Website
 

Visit our Harrison avenue showroom to see these and more amazing examples of the Mamluk design in a range of colors and sizes.

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More mysterious facts about Original Mamluk Carpets

– Prior to the mamluk rugs, there was no pile-rug weaving in Egypt.

– No one knows where the rugs were originally woven. Egypt, Turkey and Spain are offered possibilities. One reason for so many places to be considered is that the rugs seemed to appear out of thin air.

– The wool is unlike the wool used in other Egyptian rugs of that time. However it is not clear that the wool is from somewhere other than Egypt.

– The wool is spun clockwise, and most carpet wools were spun counterclockwise.

– The red dye came from Indian insects known as Iac. Master weavers in Turkey and Iran were using pigment entirely different during this time period.

Tradition & Function: Living Bridges in India

crazy_bridge

Long ago in North Eastern India, the War-Khasis tribe of Meghalaya were way ahead of the green movement. They realized they could grow their own bridges! Meghalaya is known as “the wettest place in the world”, and once received 25 meters of rain in one year, making the world record. The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are intersected by numerous, rapidly flowing rivers. Nearly all the rainfall occurs during the monsoon of the summer months, and the gentle rivers can  quickly become wild, raging and dangerous to cross. The people still had to cross these waterways, and discovered they could utilize their natural resources to benefit their lives in a beautiful way, while remaining harmonious with nature.

The only material needed for the creation of these bridges is a tree, known as Ficus Elastica. This is a species of rubber tree,that can grow to a size of 30-40 meters. These trees have a secondary root system, which causes the roots to grow outwards. The roots grow upwards, towards the upper part of the tree and are incredibly strong. The Ficus can comfortably and sturdily grow from the edges of huge boulders, as well as within the river beds themselves.

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Although the trees grow all on their own, people must use tools and frames to guide the growth of the trees in the desired direction. The trunks of betel nut trees are slices down the middle and hollowed out, and used as a guidance frame for the roots of the Ficus. This causes the new and therefore tender and thin roots to grow straight out, across the river, instead of spreading in all different directions like they would without help. When the roots grow long enough to reach the soil of the other side of the river, they take root. Over time, the roots grow deep into the earth, and provide a sturdy structure that spans from one side of the river to the other. People also choose places a bridge is needed, and plant a tree there. Then they must wait for the tree to grow strong and tall before cultivating a bridge. In this aspect, there is significant planning involved in growing root bridges, and serious patience.

smoking_guy

Dilligent attention must be paid to this process and it typically takes from 10-15 years for the bridge to be completed. Some of these bridges can hold the weight of 50 people and reach a length of over 100 feet. The most amazing thing about these bridges, is they actually get stronger with age. Through time, the wood of the roots obtain a strength of what is compared  to steel cables. In fact, it is the “alive” aspect of these structures that allows them to be so strong. Their constant growth adds to their durability. It is estimated that some of the “ancient” root bridges used daily by the people in this region are well over 500 years old. Talk about sustainable development.

One of the most astonishing and unique root bridges is believed to be the only one like it in the world. It is two bridges, one growing about 14 feet over the other one.  It is known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge”.

double_bridge

There is a lot of well deserved attention being paid to these wonders, because they were re-discovered by a man from the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. Denis P Rayen wants to promote interest in the bridges. To prevent the  bridges from being destroyed or replaced with steel in favor of modernizing, the local people have been alerted to their value and potential. I think they were probably already aware. Currently, a new bridge is being grown, and should be finished within this decade.

In this video, a man teaches his daughter the knowledge and skills needed to complete the bridge he has been growing for over 30 years. He knows he will not live long enough to see it finished, and he wants to ensure his daughter will take his place and see it through. To me, this wisdom and knowledge being passed down from generation to generation is a striking parallel to the “living bridges” themselves. Each generation begins a bridge to the generations to come, by teaching their children these secrets. This a moving story of people living in humble awe of the miraculous earth around them, and the power of growing instead of cutting down.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oESC2iDZArI]

Sit Safely with Cisco Brothers

wood cisco_craftsmanship

This past November, HBO aired a documentary called “Toxic Hot Seat”. This film seeks to raise awareness about flame retardants, which are chemicals put into our furniture to prevent the spreading of fire. The flame retardants are used in the production of the large majority of furniture, and in the past, were even put into children’s pajamas. They sound like a good idea, but the chemicals used to make flame retardants are toxic to the human body, and studies show they are linked to cancer.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hWwfcsJXHM]

There are three major companies producing flame retardants and they have spent millions on teams of press and legal aid to prevent questions from being asked. In TOXIC HOT SEAT, film maker investigates the story of how flame retardants came to be required, and the many levels of manipulation used by Big Tobacco to convince firefighters that this was all for our safety. The film also casts light on the un truths told by the chemical companies about the threats to pubic health their products pose. These companies paid false experts to warn the public about removing flame retardants from homes, claiming it was a deadly risk.

Toxic Hot Seat shares the personal stories of a cancer-surviving firefighter, a renowned chemist whose work helped remove fire retardants from kid’s pajamas in the 1970s, and a brave and determined young Maine legislator and mom. The film represents the bravery of ordinary citizens willing to fight for the truth.
In support of the efforts and moral quest of this film, another, shorter film was made, by our friends at Cisco Hand Crafted Furniture. Cisco has been flame retardant and toxin free since their start, and has been “passionate about this issue for many years”. The goal of their company is to create sustainable furniture that is as healthy on the inside, as well as beautiful on the outside. Cisco Pinedo, the founder of Cisco, personally attended a Sacramento hearing concerning the modification of TB-117 and the removal of flame retardant requirements.

In this video, Cisco explains that although their company has been creating healthy and safe furniture for over 20 years, they have gone even further in the last 7 years by creating “The Green Line”. This is a line of furniture produced by using 100% organic materials. The video then goes through all the components of putting together a single piece of furniture. A step by step list is given of each material used, the products used to wash the materials, and the socially, environmentally and economically responsible process used for producing and obtaining all of these matrials.

Check out this video, and many others on the Cisco site, giving visual insight to the world of Cisco, and healthy furniture.