For thousands of years, the term “Persian carpet” has been synonymous with beauty, mystery and magic. Persian carpets are possibly the most highly prized of all carpets, renowned throughout the world for their attractiveness, their high quality craftsmanship and their durability.
What Is a Persian Rug?
Persian carpets are carpets and rugs that have been manufactured in the part of the world now known as Iran. Seventy-five percent of the world’s handmade carpets come from Iran, and carpets are that nation’s largest non-petroleum export item. Approximately 1.2 million Persian weavers live and work inside Iran today.
Modern Persian rugs are most often made from wool. In traditional societies, however, a Persian rug might be made from wool or cotton or even silk if the customer could afford it. The knot count of traditional rugs was just as important as the materials the rug was made of. The knot count of modern Persian carpets varies between 16 to 800 knots per inch depending upon the materials and the skill of the weavers, but it was not uncommon for antique Persian rugs and silk carpet to have a knot count as high as 1,000 knots per inch.
Weaving a Persian rug by hand is a complicated process that employs a loom and often takes place over many months. Persian Oriental weavers employ a number of different rectilinear and curvilinear designs that have often been handed down within families for centuries although today’s weavers are likely to use sophisticated CAD software to plot their designs before they commence the weaving process.
How Did Persian Rugs Originate?
Carpets are made from perishable materials like wool, cotton and silk that deteriorate relatively quickly, so there are not many examples of carpet-weaving from the earliest times. The oldest Persian-style carpet on record was discovered in 1949 in the tomb of a Scythian prince in Siberia’s Pazyryk Valley. Carbon dating reveals the Pazyryk carpet dates from the 5th century BC. It is exceptionally well preserved and well made, indicating a sophisticated carpet-making tradition that goes back at least a thousand years. Many archeologists believe the Pazyryk carpet actually originated in Persia.
Cyrus the Great is widely credited with introducing the art of carpet making into Persia in 529 BC, following his conquest of Babylon where carpet making flourished. By the Islamic conquests of the 7th century AD, Persia was renowned for its carpets, and Persian cities paid their annual caliphate taxes in carpets. Smaller hand woven rugs became increasingly popular as prayer mats.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Oriental rugs in general and the Persian carpet in particular became phenomenally popular all throughout Western Europe.
Are All Oriental Rugs Persian?
Among some people, the phrase “Persian rug” has become a generic term used incorrectly to describe Oriental rugs that come from Turkey and other parts of Western Asia (the Middle East.) In addition to the geographical difference in point of origin, however, there are also slight differences in the way these two types of carpets are created: Persian carpets are tied with a single looping knot while Turkish carpets use a double looping knot.
What makes a Persian Rug “Antique?”
The oldest existing antique Oriental rugs from Iran date back to the 16th century Safavid Dynasty in Persia. An antique Persian carpet, however, is considered to be one that was made before the use of synthetic aniline dyes became standard practice. Synthetic dyes began to replace natural vegetable and mineral dyes around 1930.
Rugs that have been made before the 1930’s can be considered an antique. Rugs that were made during the 1930’s – 1940’s are classified as semi-antique and old if the rugs were made during the 1950’s. If you are purchasing a rug that was made after the 1960’s it will be classified as new.
What Is the Historical Significance of Antique Persian Rugs?
Antique Persian rugs were used both as furnishings and as decor by every class of citizen in traditional Persia from nomads to clerics to potentates. Antique Persian tribal rugs and carpet designs typically showcase design motifs from the regions where they originated.
Antique Persian rugs are both works of art and an investment, similar to paintings. Unlike paintings, however, whose value depends upon the reputation of an artist that can rise or fall over time, the value of an antique Persian carpet as a commodity always continues to appreciate. In June 2013, Sotheby’s sold a 17th century Kirman vase rug from southern Persia with a sickle-leaf, vine scroll and palmette design for $33.765 million.
The most famous of all Persian carpets are the two Ardebil Carpets, Tabriz-style rugs that originally lay on the floors of a mosque in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Ardabil. These carpets were sold to a British rug dealer in 1890 who used them as a template to create endless copies. Interestingly enough, during World War II, copies of the Ardebil Carpets lay on both the floors of 10 Downing Street and Hitler’s office.
Are there Different Kinds of Persian Rugs?
Iranian carpets are classified according to size. Farsh or Qāli are living room rugs, sized 6 X 4 feet and larger. A Qālicheh is what might be called a Persian area rug, measuring 6 X 4 feet or smaller. Gelim are the pile rugs and flat weave kilims that originated as prayer rugs.
Geography is another means of distinguishing types of rugs:
• Gabbeh rugs: Gabbeh are coarse pile rugs that originated traditionally in Persia’s mountainous Zagros area.
• Qum rugs: Qum rugs come from the city of Qom, one of the holiest cities in the Shi’a Islam tradition, known for centuries as a center for high end silk carpet production.
• Tabriz rugs: Tabriz rugs are manufactured in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz, which has been a carpet manufacturing center since the 12th century.
• Shiraz rugs: Shiraz rugs are woven by tribal weavers near the village of Shiraz in the southwestern part of Iran.
• Sarouk rugs: Sarouk rugs (sometimes called Sarough rugs), the most popular Iranian carpets among Western consumers, are manufactured in the countryside outside the city of Arak. They’re distinguished by their traditional floral motifs and their bright blue, red and pink colors.
Are Antique Persian Rugs Considered Environmentally Friendly?
Antique Persian rugs may be considered eco-friendly because they are made by hand from natural, sustainable vegetable and animal fibers like wool, cotton and silk. Antique Persian rugs also used natural dyes derived from plants, insects and minerals to dye these fibers.
How Did Persian Rug Makers Get Their Dyes?
The precise formula of the dyes that Persian carpet makers used to color their wool and other fibers were closely guarded secrets for centuries. They were generally derived from plant bases, crushed insects and mineral preparations.
The most popular hue for carpets was a red dye extracted from the root of the madder plant, also called Rubia tinctorum which grows wild outside Tehran and Yazd. The exact shade of red varied according to the alkalinity of the mordant and other substances, such yogurt and grape juice.
Another popular shade for traditional Persian carpets was blue, which was derived from the leaves of the indigo plant. Indigo did not grow wild in Persia and had to be imported from India, which accounts for the relative rarity of blue shades in Persian antique rugs.
Where Can I Buy Persian Rugs?
For years, the only place consumers could buy designer rugs and high quality carpet from Persia/Iran was through specialty rug or carpet stores or on trips when they traveled abroad to Iran.
These days with a myriad of beautiful Persian carpets to choose from it is easy to buy high quality Persian rugs online at competitive prices. When you’re buying online you will be able to see photographs of the rugs you are looking at buying.
Persian rugs can be a beautiful enhancement to your home decor and a valuable investment that will last through time.
Is a Persian Rug a Good Investment for My Home?
Persian carpets, carpet runners and stair runners can be an excellent investment for your home. In addition to the monetary value of your Persian rug you will be owning a piece of history and enhancing the decor of your home or even office environment. It is important to note that a machine woven rug does not carry the same value as an investment in hand woven rugs, hand knotted rugs or antique decorative rugs. Your carpet’s age, size, knot density, condition, whether it is made from hand spun or machine spun fibers, and whether it is crafted from aniline or natural dyes, will all determine the market value of your colorful rugs in the years to come.