Bed Tents (Greece)

Bed tent (sperveri) from Rhodes, 17th/18th century, Benaki Museum, Athens. Bed tent (sperveri) from Rhodes, 17th/18th century, Benaki Museum, Athens.

Bed tents (Gr: sperveri) are a particular form of bed furnishing, known from the Greek Dodecanese (literally ‘Twelve Islands’) in the  Aegean Sea, close to the Turkish coastline. The Dodecanese includes twelve large (including Rhodes) and about 150 smaller Islands. 

On these Greek islands, and on some of the nearby Cyclades, there was a tradition of having a marriage bed (pastó or krévato) placed in the corner of a room on a raised platform. In order to provide privacy these beds were covered with a large canopy or tent called a sperveri. The tents were made by the female members of a family, often as part of a girl’s dowry.

Sperveri were normally densely embroidered, as the more embroidery on display the higher the economic and social status of the family. This type of bed furnishing dates from at least the medieval period and remained in use to the early nineteenth century. Sperveri are no longer made or used on a daily basis. In general sperveri were made from a linen ground and decorated with coloured floss silk. The stitch used was a form of raised cross stitch.

A Dodecanese sperveri, especially those from Rhodes, normally consisted of tapering strips of linen cloth joined at the top to a large wooden ring (mylospérvero) that was hung from the ceiling to form the tent. The front of the sperveri was heavily embroidered, while the back had little or no decoration. The most elaborate embroidery was used for the panels on either side of the front opening and for the panel over the opening. The designs on these panels include flowering plants in pots (a motif called glástra) and paired broad leaf motifs (platyphyllénio). Other motifs include paired peacocks, a symbol of eternity. To each side of the opening were two horizontal bands, embroidered with the same colours and motifs as the vertical panels.

The bed platform was normally covered by a valance (called a sendónia or a móstres). The sperveri was accompanied by embroidered sheets and numerous cushions decorated in the same manner. According to the English archaeologist and textile historian, Alan Wace, the earliest illustration of a tent bed can be seen in a twelfth century Byzantine fresco in Cyprus. There is also a reference to tent beds in a sixteenth century travelogue by the French botanist and explorer, Pierre Belon (1517-1565), who visited Rhodes. Belon noted in his diary: “Lon y trouve à acheter de beaux ouvrages de soie faictz à l’aiguille, et principalement des pavillons de licts. Itz font leurs ouvrages de diverses couleurs, en maniere de points croisez. Le portraict est de feuillages, et est different à l’ouvrage Turquois, et à celuy qui est faict à Chio et en Cyrpre.”

Complete sperveri are now very rare, as they were often broken up to provide a daughter with embroidery for her dowry. There is an example of a complete bed tent in the Benaki Museum in Athens (acc. no. 7650; see illustration), and a near complete one in the Textile Museum, Washington DC (acc. no.


  • BELON, Pierre (1553). Les observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie et autres pays étrangèrs, vol. II, Paris: G. Corrozet, p. 90.
  • JOHNSON, Pauline (1972). A Guide to Greek Island Embroidery, London: Victoria and Albert Museum/HMSO.
  • POLYCHRONIADIS, Helen (1980). Greek Embroideries, Athens: Benaki Museum.
  • WACE, Alan (1935). Mediterranean and Near Eastern Embroideries from the Collection of Mrs. F. H. Cook, London: Halton and Co., p. 23.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 19 June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 14:34
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