Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Turkey . . as in Turkish Carpets

I will always remember being pulled off the street in Istanbul, just around the corner from the Hagia Sophia with its haunting portrait of Christ, for tea with a very smooth Turkish carpet seller. These Turks have been traders for millenia. Their sophistication shows in their gregarious chatter, their sweet, hot tea served in tiny glasses, and their tightly woven carpets shining with silk threads.

This most famous painting, "The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) is but one of many examples by Western medieval and Renaissance painters where the Turkish carpet is displayed somewhat casually to show the wealth and status of the patron. These carpets were also commonly painted near or beneath the throne of the Virgin.

"The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein the Younger (Wikipedia)

But Holbein's "The Ambassadors" has a 'trick of the eye' to remind the reader of death. That funny squiggle that seems out of place and that runs counter to the bottom of the painting is actually a skull, when seen from the side of the painting. When we see the skull, we are to be reminded of the shortness of life, especially true in the Middle Ages.

So today's poem is a homage to that visit to Turkey, a country rich with culture and history:

I visited the Bosphorus once
and watched boats cross her blue waters,
much as they did hundreds of years ago,
when one could only enter the palace of sultans
if invited and if of the proper rank.
Thousands prayed here in the mosques;
thousands more worked along the narrow market streets,
the Street of the Tentmakers yet remains,
one small shop a tent itself where young boys
sit cross-legged the whole day to sew
intricate appliqued patterns into wall hangings
or wedding tents. What was once carried
on the Great Silk Road to China,
we tourists take home to cherish.

Wall Hanging from Street of the Tentmakers
Istanbul (Camp 2010)

Read more about Turkish carpets, Hans Holbein, and the Hagia Sophia.

Or read what others have written to celebrate April, National Poetry Month
A to Z blogging challenge, NaPoWriMo