If you’re a reader of historical novels you probably have come across the term Bessarabian applied to a rug.
Recently while reading a book by best-selling novelist Kate Morton, I came across this line in The House at Riverton “Teddy pacing the Bessarabian carpet.” Kate Morton is very descriptive, but she failed me there. I could imagine a “rug;” a “Persian rug” a Caucasian rug, any number of rugs, but what made the rug Bessarabian and what does a Bessarabian rug look like? And where in the Hell is Bessarabia?
Well, as the map image above shows, Basarabia is not as you might have thought, on the Arabian Peninsula; rather, it is located in Eastern Europe a bit north of Turkey with a border on the Black Sea. The name Bessarabia comes from the name of the ruling dynasty in the 14th Century, Basarab. At the time this map was drawn the area was a region of Romania. The area is no longer called Bessarabia or Basarbia, and interestingly enough, rugs by that name are no longer being produced in the region; both disappeared in the early 20th Century.
Ok, we now know where Bessarabia is (was) and that gives us a clue as to what made a rug Bessarabian. Now all we have to figure out is what they looked like. After considerable reading I came up with this description/definition: A Bessarabian Rug is best described as as a highly decorative, flat-woven hand-made rug with naturalistic floral motifs fit within a black or gray toned background, one of the most beautiful examples of which is the following:
This truly lovely rug was woven in the late 19th Century. Note the naturalistic rather than stylized motifs and the dark background.
Bessarabian rugs are sometimes mistaken for Karabagh rugs. At first glance I thought them so similar that I was prepared to argue that the lower rug was actually Bessarabian rather than Karabagh. In a later post I was able to talk myself through the differences and I now agree that the lower rug is a Karabagh.