The Mystique and Attraction of the Persian Carpet

Selecting Persian carpets to adorn your home

The terms “carpet” and “rug” denote size, the larger ones — anything over approx. 2.5 x 1.6 m (or 4 square metres) - being carpets; those smaller being rugs. For simplicity we will mainly use the term ”carpet”, although many often use them interchangeably.

Briefly, Persian carpets are, by definition carpets made in Persia (since 1935 renamed Iran). They have a long and fascinating history in the West, starting way back at the time of the Renaissance in the 15th Century. There were no carpets as such in the West before then – they didn’t exist in the West. But they did exist of course in Persia and other countries of the Orient such as Turkey, India, Central-Asia & China. As a decorative art form, their origins go back at least 2500 years making this one of Man’s oldest and most enduring art & craft forms.

NOTE: Important to know is that Persia refers to modern-day Iran, while the “orient” - [east] refers to the entire geographical area in which these handmade rugs are constructed. In order to qualify as a Persian rug, the carpet must be made in Iran. Any rug made in Afghanistan, Turkey, India or another regional country is an Oriental rug.

Traditional Roots

Known as the original home of the Oriental carpet, Iran (Persia) the oldest and once the most powerful empire in the Middle East, stood at the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilizations. Under the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), Iran attained its artistic height, and court weaving, together with the art of calligraphy, miniature painting, and tilework, flourished to exceptional heights. This brilliant era witnessed the development of highly qualified carpet factories in cities including Kerman, Isfahan, Kashan, Tabriz, and Herat (now a part of Afghanistan). Iran is the genesis of most motifs, patterns, and traditional colorations produced in rugs throughout the world today. Over the centuries, Persian carpets have become treasured heirlooms passed on from one generation to the next.

Antique Persian rug sold on auction 2014

By the mid-19th century, American, British, and German firms had established new carpet production facilities in Meshed, Tabriz, Kerman, and Sultanabad (now Arak), thus ensuring the art forms continued development. And in the 20th century, under Shah Reza Pahlavi, royal factories were established to utilize only the finest materials and methods of manufacture.

Oriental rugs have always been and are still an intrinsic part of Iranian culture and its people's daily lives. Indeed, Oriental rugs are in many cases their most valued possession and are an integral part of their home furnishings. Thus, it is not surprising that current production levels throughout Iran equal if not surpass those reached prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In fact, rugs are now even produced in areas where weaving was heretofore not practiced. Furthermore, Persian carpets continue to boast very high quality standards and command a very brisk interest in domestic and international markets. While large city workshops were an important factor in the past, much of today's production is fashioned along cottage industry lines in smaller villages and towns.

Persian carpets are traditionally known for their tremendous variety in design, color, size, and weave, and for the uniqueness of each and every rug produced. Rugs are generally named after the village, town, or district where they are woven or collected, or by the weaving tribe in the case of nomadic pieces. Each rug's particular pattern, palette, and weave are uniquely linked with the indigenous culture, and weaving techniques are specific to an identifiable geographic area or nomadic tribe. Such is the case, for instance, of the richly colored Bakhtiari rugs - frequently characterized by ellipse-shaped medallions with floral patterns - woven by the Bakhtiari nomads and villagers of southern Iran.

Persian carpets offer a full gamut of colorations from the pastel shades of champagne, rose, and green, typical of a Kerman for instance, to the striking reds and blues of a Heriz. This highly popular pattern is characterized by a bold and angular medallion and corner design. Just as with design, Persian color ways are a continued source of inspiration for other rug-producing countries throughout the world.

A Persian carpet or Persian rug (Persian: قالی ايرانى qālī-ye īranī), also known as Iranian carpet (Persian: فرش ايرانى‎ farsh, meaning "to spread"), is a heavy textile, made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purpose, produced in Iran (historically known as Persia), for home use, local sale, and export. Carpet weaving is an essential part of Persian culture and Iranian art. Within the group of Oriental rugs produced by the countries of the so-called "rug belt", the Persian carpet stands out by the variety and elaborateness of its manifold designs.

Persian carpets and rugs of various types were woven in parallel by nomadic tribes, in village and town workshops, and by royal court manufactories alike. As such, they represent different, simultaneous lines of tradition, and reflect the history of Iran and its various peoples. The carpets woven in the Safavid court manufactories of Isfahan during the sixteenth century are famous for their elaborate colours and artistical design, and are treasured in museums and private collections all over the world today. Their patterns and designs have set an artistic tradition for court manufactories which was kept alive during the entire duration of the Persian Empire up to the last royal dynasty of Iran.

In Persian rugs, the medallion represents the primary pattern, and the infinite repeat of the field appears subordinated, creating an impression of the medallion “floating” on the field. Anatolian rugs often use the infinite repeat as the primary pattern, and integrate the medallion as secondary. Its size is often adapted to fit into the infinite repeat.

Top Reasons to Buy Persian Carpets

  1. Beautiful and decorative, regardless of decor. Warmth, colourful designs, luxurious textures. Loved and prized for centuries till the present day
  2. Being Hand-crafted, each therefore by definition unique, no two ever identical! (In the same way any original painting is unique. And each will have its own personality)
  3. Completely natural fibres, hence environmentally friendly!
  4. Potentially long-lasting and durable. If correctly cared for, could last generations or centuries! Heirlooms. (Most in art museums go back two to four centuries!)
  5. Enormous variety of colours and designs from dozens of regions of the Orient. Something for every taste, budget and décor
  6. Sizes and shapes (even round) to suit all needs
  7. Different textures – flat-weaves (Kilims or tapestry-type) and plush knotted-piled surface
  8. Store of value or growth in value potential, especially with the better and best examples. Why? Because it is a steadily dying art& craft. This has been proven over many generations - though as with all assets, it applies to only some, and there is no guarantee
  9. An original work of art