A Collector’s Haven: Divriği Carpet & Antique

Serkan Şimşek – Interiors with a Soul – Comd 357 Multimedia Journalism Final Project

Hello Artsies! I am back with a new story where I spent a day in a very close family friend’s carpet & antiques shop. Mr. Ali Karababa is a very well-known -if not the biggest- collector from Ankara! From museum assigned pieces belonging to The Great Seljuk and Ottoman Empire, to family heirlooms discovered in the distant villages of Turkey, many great antiques and carpets can be found in Alibaba’s store in the Esat neighbourhood of Ankara. There is a twist however, although it is a “store”, many of the items here are not for sale because of their rarity, historical value and Alibaba’s devotion to them! Come and join me on today’s post where I spent a day exploring the the most valuable pieces in their store and listening to his son, Mr. Kemal Karababa!


Mr. Kemal Karababa posing alongside his father Mr. Ali Karababa’s Collection

Mr. Ali Karababa, known as “Alibaba” and his 2 sons, Kemal and Eyup has been doing this business since 1960’s. Although Alibaba started his career as a contractor, his interest in antiques and carpets started in his teenage years. “My father started this business because of his love for antiques and travelled to many distant villages in over 64 out of 67 cities in Turkey (in 1960’s and 1970’s) and collected historical artefacts” says Mr. Karababa.

According to him,  the reason his father decided not to sell many items from his collection was due to the fact that he loved all of his pieces as a “children” and refused to part ways with them. He adds, “he opened a store in Tehran Street (a very popular street in Ankara) and sold many antiques in 3 months, he then realised that he couldn’t find the same or similar pieces again, after then, he never sold a rare piece.” I have translated the important points into English in my texts, you can see the full Turkish video below.

After his experience in store in the Tehran Street, in order to ensure the safety and care of the artefacts, Alibaba decided to register his most valuable pieces to museums of Turkey. According to Law No. 2863 on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage”,  trade of registered pieces with ethnographic and cultural value can only be done under very specific requirements and legal procedures. Like with Alibaba’s pieces, The Museum Directorates arrange a “Movable Cultural and Natural Property Certificate Subject to Registration” With this procedure, Alibaba makes sure that the artefact goes under minister control. The purchase-sale and exchange transactions of the such items can only be carried out by the owners of this document at the nearest museum directorate, and the new situation is declared in writing to the museum where the document was issued. It is forbidden to transfer it to someone else, sell it and take it abroad illegally. You can see just a minor portion of the artefacts aforementioned, in the Turkish video below.


Alibaba’s collection is displayed in 4 stories, extended over a 600 sqm. space in their store in Esat. As we have seen from the video, there are items dating even back to 11th century Seljuk period to 18th century pieces used by the Ottoman Sultans in Topkapi Palace. There are also more recent pieces such as 18th century furniture owned by Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg.  Alibaba pays the utmost care to his items, I am a first-hand witness to this as I visited the store many times during my childhood years as well as very recently, and the items are still in the same, if not in better condition! Here is a collage I made from the endless rooms of the store.


Phyrgia Kingdom Treasure found in Divrigi

When asked to share a story told to him by his father, Mr. Karababa tells a story of a deep buried treasure discovered in Odur, Sivas Divrigi. The treasure belonging to The Phyrgia Kingdom of 1100 B.C., was unearthed by illegal treasure hunters where they discover a tomb. “They first let down a rabbit down the tunnel, and the rabbit died because of poison” he says. After seeing the rabbit die, a villager reports the incident to the local authorities. With the help of the ministry, the tomb and all of its treasures -25 kg. of pure gold relics and coins- are excavated and now are being displayed in the Kayseri Museum.


A pure gold relic found in the Divrigi Treasure

Ataturk Statue by Italian Sculptor Pietro Canonica

Mr. Karababa also shares a story of a valuable piece in his father’s collection, a bust of the great founding father of Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The bust, made by the Italian Sculptor Pietro Canonica, was commissioned by Ataturk in order to see the craftsmanship of Canonica. According to him, the famous Victory Monument located in the center of Ankara Ulus Square, was approved by Ataturk after seeing this exact bust made by the sculptor. I have translated the story into English above, but you can also hear the Turkish sound recording.

The original Ataturk Bust in Alibaba’s collection by Canonica
Ulus Victory Monument by Pietro Canonica

Making Alaaddin Jealous, Always Magical: Carpets
Mr. Karababa also introduces us to the most valuable carpets in the store. Spoiler alert, some of these carpets are over 300 hundred years old! He and his staff of over 25 years Aydin Bey tells me the location these carpets were woven, as well as what is making them special. As you may tell, age is a contributing factor to their value, but their dye and condition are also in the upmost importance. You can take a look at the aforementioned carpets below.

As we learn from Aydin Bey, the reason these carpets are considered valuable lies within their dye. Natural and Madder dye, which are extracted from roots of various plants and vegetables such as walnut shells, herbs, and even onion peel are used in these carpets! When cared upon, the dye of these carpets never age he claims. I also learn that black parts of the carpet are the most easily deteriorated, since the onion peel used to make the dye is the most prune to rot. Mr. Karababa adds that most of these carpets are in fact not used daily, but only displayed in houses when special guests come over. I have summarised and translated the important points above. In the video below, you can see the details about the most valuable carpets in the store, and Mr. Karababa and Aydin Bey’s explanations.


I spent an amazing day with Mr. Kemal Karababa, exploring the most exquisite antiques, listening to stories and learning about the details that make a carpet special.  If you’d like to pay a visit to Mr. Alibaba’s Esat store, I have added their address  in the map below.

I hope you liked today’s post as much as I did, I can’t wait to hear your comments below. Until then, stay Artsy! ​✨