On the second floor of the building she runs her business out of, Nebije has created a showroom and covered it with kilim rugs. They overlap on the floor, hang on all the walls and even cover the small trays with which she serves us glasses of juice when we meet. One large red rug depicting the image of the Albanian Eagle dominates the room and is a reminder of the lasting link between crafts and national tradition.

In Albania every woman who hoped to get married was required to learn how to weave from her mother. Yet here, like in other Balkan countries, the commerce in handmade rugs only started after WWII.

The kilim style originated among nomadic peoples in Northern Africa, Anatolia, Persia, Caucasus, the Balkan Peninsula, Afghanistan and Central Asia. It isn’t hard to see why. These typically flat tapestry-style handwoven carpets were easy to fold and carry. They were also intended for more than just domestic use expressing - like jewellery and clothes - the identity of a group and becoming totems for culture and customs.

The practice of making kilim rugs pre-dates Muhammad, while findings in Egyptian sarcophagi suggests it goes back to 1000 B.C. Ancient rugs can be dated and their provenance identified by looking at their motifs and colour combinations. Islamic influences as well as nomadic traits are still found in these objects today, although many of the tribal differences and a lot of the iconographic complexity have disappeared over the centuries. The term kilim still conveys a quintessential Eastern flavour, depicting tales of a wandering life and imperial palaces.

Text: Marta Galli
Photos: Pauline Thurn und Taxis