The ancient capital of Byzantium has been a magnet for dealers selling kilims—tribal flat-weave rugs with vibrant geometric patterns—since the days of Alexander the Great. Hunting in the shadow of the Blue Mosque, while muezzins issue their call to prayer, turns the search for both new and antique kilims into an adventure. But with thousands of dealers around, knowing whom to use and how to negotiate a good price can be a challenge. Here, insider tips and secret sources from Robert Nooter, a consultant for the World Bank whose collection of Caucasian kilims will be displayed in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2004.
The pedestrian mall near Hagia Sophia is the best place to begin a search for an antique kilim. Many that you'll see were made after the 1880's, when chemical dyes were adopted. They can be a good value, but the most coveted rugs are dyed naturally. Nomadic tribeswomen once made these tent furnishings for their dowries by hand, but such pieces are increasingly hard to find—and expensive. They're still available in the following shops.
Eymen Halcilik (No. 107; 90-212/ 516-0733). Halcilik's kilims go from $75 to well into the thousands.
Maison du Tapis d'Orient (No. 151; 90-212/517-6808). Mehmet Cetinkaya brings an artist's eye to his stock selection. Pieces that are less than a century old start at $200; ancient ones can go for $10,000 and up.
Gallery Silk Road (No. 165; 90-212/517-6790). Yavuz Oran specializes in rare Anatolian kilims.
Hali (No. 171; 90-212/516-7858). Knowledgeable Adnan Metin has been known to take customers to a café and pay the bill. "Don't feel indebted," advises Nooter. "It's part of the dance."
In this labyrinth of nearly 4,000 shops under a vaulted ceiling,
Galeri Sirvan (50—54 Halicilar Cad.; 90-212/522-4986) caters to collectors, who rely on owner Erol Kazanci for his museum-quality kilims and horse blankets.
Turkey's Ministry of Culture has been pouring money into weaving villages, reintroducing vegetable dyes and lost designs in an effort to revive the art.
Turkish Handwoven Carpet Sales Center (Opposite Hagia Sophia; 90-212/638-0035). Housed in an old bathhouse, the store has a large, affordable selection based on antique rugs.
Yoruk Collection (35 Yerebatan Cad.; 90-212/528-5445). Co-owner Mike Akbayrak replicates ancient patterns and can make kilims to order.
Namik Albayrakoglu (90-533/365-6547) and Ahmet Elci (90-532/ 214-5141). Both charge $50 for a half-day; book in advance.
1. Most dealers will give 20 percent off, but you can often do better.
2. Never make a purchase on the spot; say you'll be back.
3. Don't start bargaining until you're ready to buy.
4. Ask that repairs—which can often be done overnight—be included in the price.
5. Charge cards are usually accepted, but you'll pay more.