In Paris, early 20th century

The many designs, patterns and symbols in Persian and Oriental Carpets and their meaning

What Do The Different Patterns & Colours Mean?

Steeped in history and geography, these symbols reach far back and have meaning to the different designers and weavers alike. Traditionally, their meaning is linked to their experiences living on harsh lands in trying times, and using the art of weaving carpets to make a living.

The Patterns and Colours

There is a variety of motifs and patterns on oriental carpets. Traditional patterns are such as ornaments or floral and geometric designs, knotted all-over and surrounded by beautiful borders. Classic midfield-medallions are popular, too. There is an endless abundance of patterns and colours, that are decorating oriental carpets. The knotters only have one limit: their imagination. Some of the most popular patterns are the Herati pattern - a diamond surrounding a rosette - and the Boteh pattern, which looks like a swung almond.

The whole colour spectrum finds itself on oriental carpets. Red, blue and beige shades are the most traditional ones. Real carpets from the orient are costly coloured with natural dyes. Synthetic colours can be found on cheaper pieces, but they have a lower colour depth. Thus, original Persian carpets aren't just of high durability, but also have an amazing colour depth.

Everybody who owns an Oriental rug is sure to admire its inherent beauty but very few actually know that the patterns of a rug actually have some meaning. Oriental rug weavers tell a story through the patterns that they choose. Knowing a little bit about the patterns will help you to read the rug that you own or if you are shopping for one.

Because the art of weaving was passed down from one generation to the next, most rugs from one tribe tend to have similarities in the patterns woven into the rugs as well as the colors used. This makes it easy to distinguish the different rugs and identify exactly what type of rug it is.

Oriental Rug Weavers Tell A Story Through The Patterns & Symbols of a Rug

Different Motifs, Symbols And Their Meanings

A Lotus or Peacock symbol represents immortality or rebirth.
Star motifs stand for good luck or spirituality.
A Dog motif symbolizes trust or protection.
Lily stands for spirituality, purity.
Camels symbolize wealth and prosperity.
Blossom represents spring, youth or newlywed.
Tulip means prosperity.
Pomegranate symbolizes fertility.
White Roses represent innocence, whereas red roses represent passion.
A Boteh motif means flame or universe.
Tree of Life motif stands for a direct path from earth to heaven. reminds us of our desire to become divine, symbol of the afterlife and immortality, hope, heaven, eternal paradise
Different types of Jugs or Ewers mean purification.
A Parrot symbolizes protection or escaping from danger.
Eagle and Dragon motifs stand for power.
Hyacinths represent regeneration.
Snakes symbolize wisdom or guardians.
Leaves mean endless regeneration.
Cypress motif stands for serenity or rebirth.
A Rooster or Chicken motif means protection from evil eye.
Ram horns: a symbol of male fertility, strength, bravery
Herati: mahi flower, fish, good luck
Boteh (paisley): seed of life, fertility, eternal life, pregnancy
Elibelinde (hands on hips): Anatolian symbol of the mother goddess, mother with child in womb, fertility, abundance
Dragon: wisdom, power, guardians of the tree of life, good fortune
Stars and Crosses: protective motifs, found in rugs of varying origins, offer protection against evil, catastrophes or ill will. Connotes happiness.
Mihrab: paradise gateway
Camel: strength, endurance, blessing
Peony: rank and wealth
Lotus: immortality, rebirth
Gul (gol): sun, moon, stars
Ying Yang: balance, harmony
Amulets: Often (but not always) triangular in shape, sometimes in center medallion, intended to rid the user of evil spirits. Birds: Whether it’s a phoenix, an eagle, a peacock or a dove, most birds symbolize good luck, power, happiness and love. Some birds, however, such as ravens and owls, mean bad luck and death.

Some of the Symbols and What they Mean

Patterns Used In Oriental Rugs

Some of the above motifs were created in a more realistic form while others were created as geometric motifs.

The geometric motifs were made up of straight lines that placed horizontally, vertically and diagonally to create the desired design. The same combination of lines was used to create the same motif repeated throughout the rug. These geometric motifs were usually woven over a solid-colored background. Sometimes the rug featured a larger-sized geometric motif surrounded by several smaller motifs that were arranged either symmetrically or asymmetrically around the central medallion.

Rugs with all-over patterns are constructed differently. There is no central medallion. Instead, the weaver wove elaborate patterns continuously across the whole field of the rug.

In the same tribe, even if the weavers used the same type of motifs, it is impossible to find two rugs that look the same. That is because each weaver represented the same motif using their own creativity and imagination.

Colours Of Oriental Carpets Matter Too

The colors that were used in the rug were not chosen at random. Weavers chose their colours intentionally to represent different attributes.

Red is used to represent wealth, beauty, faith, joy, and courage.
Yellow represents the joy of life or the sun, power and glory.
Blue stands for force or power, solitude and truth. Sometimes it was used to refer to the afterlife.
Brown stands for fertility.
Orange stands for devotion, piety, humility.
Green is rarely used in oriental rugs because it is considered as the holy color of the Prophet Mohammed. It is only used in rugs that that are not intended for use as floor rugs that people will walk on. When used it represents hope, life, and renewal.
White: purity and cleanliness
Black is also very rarely used as it is considered to be the color of destruction and mourning. Weavers used it only to highlight the outlines of their motifs.

Interestingly, the weavers did not use guides when creating their patterns. They used their surroundings as inspiration and recreated the patterns into the weaving. Some weavers used stories as inspiration. Their patterns tell a story that can only be understood by knowing what the different motifs represent.