The Serbian word for a rug is ćilim, coming from the Persian gilim via Turkish. It is a woollen fabric with the hemp, cotton or woollen warp. It is used as a floor covering, a bed or furniture cover, horse cover, also as a wall decoration and a warm garment in cold weather.
Rug weaving tradition is several thousands years old. Once used as a protection against cold weather and dust, with time it became a work of art. Rug weaving used to be a tradition in the countries of today Turkey, in the Balkans, in the Caucasus lands, in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, central Asia, Northern Africa …
A rug was widely used in everyday life, on holidays and in religious rites in village households, but also in towns and cities and even at a royal court. As decorative items, they were particularly valued among the wealthy.
It also had an important role in social or community life. As part of the wedding customs, a rug was the bride’s most luxurious dowry item, and also represented an expensive and important gift, even among the statesmen and eminent figures.
From the late 19th to the mid 20th century, among the Serbs, rugs used to be displayed at public political gatherings, adopting a significance of a national symbol.
A typical rug making town in Serbia is Pirot. Up to two thirds of all the women used to participate in rug weaving. Influenced by the Pirot rug making art, other towns in Serbia were soon starting the industry. The Pirot rugs quality and originality won numerous rewards and medals at fairs world wide.
Rug weaving is an art. It takes six weeks to make just one square meter of a rug. The Pirot rugs are hand woven – in the same way as 400 years ago. It is said that each rug is unique, inimitable – like a fingerprint. The women weaving the rugs were creating different patterns so that they would know who did what. The Pirot rug ornamentation is always in geometrical shapes (stylized birds, floral patterns, doves or even objects from everyday life of a weaver). The most common designs display lizards, flames, bird chicks, scorpions, doves, stag beetles, whereas the floral designs are branched trees, roses in various shapes, pomegranates, garlands (cross-section of plaited flowers), flowers (carnations, cacti, tulips, flower clusters). Shades of red are dominant on the Pirot rugs – ranging from light pink reds to dark cherry and burgundy reds). Also there are blues and greens and from the mid 19th century white is also displayed on the rugs; but previously light browns and beige colours were applied, using onion skin dyeing. A special feature of the Pirot rugs is that they look the same on both sides.
Some say that rugs, due to the natural materials they are made of and the design patterns, may help in soothing, calming an anxiety.
Rugs may last up to two hundred years and in many families they are handed down from one generation to the next.
The first Rug Weaving Society was established in 1886 and on the same year the Pirot rugs were for the first time displayed for the European and world viewing on the 1886 Vienna Commerce and Industry Exhibition.
The World Expo Shanghai 2010:
The Serbian pavilion among the best at the Shanghai Expo
“Colourful façade of the Serbian Pavilion, inspired by traditional Serbian Pirot carpet, neighbours those of the European Union, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. The Serbian Pavilion displays the centuries old clash and mix of cultures and old European civilisations. According to the author, a Serbian town is like a traditional Serbian craft of weaving, where the process symbolises a symbiosis, a harmonious melt of the old and the new.”