From a distance indeed this great tent would appear to be a castle.… Round and about the pavilion on the ground outside is erected a wall of cloth, as might be otherwise the wall of a town or castle, and the cloth is of many coloured silks in diverse patterns.— Ruy González de Clavijo
From the Middle Ages onward, European travelers, such as the Spanish envoy quoted at left, wrote admiringly of great tent cities in Muslim lands—especially in Central Asia, but also in Turkey, Egypt and later Mughal India. They were astonished at the size and organization of these cities that at times numbered thousands and even tens of thousands of tents.
The cities that amazed Europeans were not simply the black camel-hair ridge tents of the Arab world or the domed yurts of the nomadic Central Asian tribes. They included movable palaces, some complete with mosques, that housed traveling royalty and their vast entourages, or were set up to mark important celebrations, such as the marriage or circumcision of members of the ruling house. And it was not just the size of these tents that caught western eyes, but their splendor and comfort, and the way they served as showcases for wonderful textiles: cloth of gold, brocade, ikat, embroideries, velvet, chintz and appliqué.
|METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART / ART RESOURCE|
|A classic yurt—a tent with a wooden lattice frame and felt walls, its roof and walls held in place by braided ropes and woven straps—is the venue of a concert on the steppe depicted in Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute: The Story of Lady Wen-Chi, a 14th-century tale of a Chinese woman kidnapped by Huns and held in their camps for years.|
|SAMMLUNG ANGEWANDTE KUNST, KASSEL / BRUNZEL / BRIDGEMAN.|
|Repeating rosettes, arches and images of hanging lamps decorate the interior of this 17th-century Ottoman tent. Real lamps would have been hung from the ridgepole. The tent was doubtless meant for an aristocrat or high-ranking administrator.|
|SAMIA EL-MOSLIMANY / SAWDIA|
|A neatly arrayed city of 40,000 tents is provided by Saudi authorities each year for Muslims making the pilgrimage to Makkah. It recalls—and exceeds in size—the tent cities that amazed western visitors to Muslim lands in the Middle Ages.|