History of Persian Handmade Carpet

Pazyryk Carpet

History of Persian handmade carpet was discovered by the well-known Russian excavator Professor S.J Rudenko. In 1949, Professor Rudenko began an excavation in Pazyryk (in the Altai Mountains of Siberia). Amidst the frozen tombs, he discovered a piece of pile carpet. This rug, which was thought to be the oldest pile-knotted rug, was woven probably at least five centuries B.C..

The size of the rug is cm. 200 x 183. In the center there are a few rows of stars with four points. That relates it to various objects excavated in Lorestan (east of Iran).

According to historical references and similarities of design, one can relate the weaving to the Achaemenid dynasty.

At present this rug is kept in the Leningrad Museum.

There are several different suppositions about the origin of this rug. Professor Rudenko himself believed that the rug was made by the Medes (170 B.C. – 226 A.D.) or possibly ancient Parthian.

Schurmann, a respected researcher of carpet art, believes that the Pazyryk rug was woven in Azerbaijan (in North West of Iran).

Another researcher, Diamond, believes that the Pazyryk contains figures of Assyrian and Achaemenid (330-553 B.C.) culture, and that its origin is Iran. Other respected experts have different opinions on the Pazyryk’s origin.

Pazyryk Carpet
Pazyryk Carpet

Ian Bennet believes that with more than 3500 kilometers distance between the Altai Mountain and the borders of Iran and it is unlikely that this carpet is woven by Iranian weavers. Bennet, in his book stresses that the art and technique of carpet weaving originated in East Asia among the Mongol tribes. He believes that from there it migrated to Eastern Asia and Iran

Sassanian Era

An important period in the history of Persian handmade carpet came during the reign of the Sasanian dynasty (224-641 A.D.) Magnificent Persian carpets won international acclaim and were exported to distant lands. One such splendor was a large sized carpet in the audience hall of the palace of King Khosrow , depicting a formal garden. The brocaded rug with silver and gold threads with jewels was named “Bahar of Khosrow” (means “spring of Khosrow”). In 641 A.D., the Sassanian dynasty was overthrow by the Arabs and the country conquered for Islam.

During the campaign against the Arabs for restoration of Iranian independence, fine arts especially rug weaving, revived. Azerbaijan, Fars and Khorasan developed as main centers for carpet weaving.

The Seljuk Turks invaded Persia in 1037 and took possession of a large area in the north west of Iran. They brought their own culture into this area, adding it to that already existing in Iran. The mixture of Turkish and Persian cultures had a great impact on the carpet weaving of that era.

Iranian carpets in this era was similar to carpets in south Asia and Turkey. Ala-ed-din mosque in Konya ( Turkey ) which at the time was the capital of the Seljuk Empire was an example.

Chengiz Khan and Timur

The Mongol armies of Ghengis Khan occupied in Iran in 1220. According to some, historical evidences the summer residence of Ghengis Khan was decorated with valuable carpets made in Fars.

Timur (Tamerlaine) occupied Iran in 1380. He was himself a Mongol and descendent of Ghengis Khan. Timur and his son Shah-Rokh (1408-1446).

Chinese art influenced Iran ‘s fine arts and many basic changes occurred in that period. Many different motifs such as leaves, ivy blossom, and different kinds of mushrooms, mythical birds, and palm trees were introduced. Dragons and animals such as deer, wild cats, and other mythical creatures were inserted into the Iranian designs.

This period was the beginning of the classic arts in Iran. Luckily, miniature drawings of those carpets exist in the poetry books, which remain from that period. The miniatures confirm these changes in pattern and design.

The Art of Carpet Weaving During the Safavid Period (1499-1722)

Another period which is important in the history of Persian handmade carpet is Safavid period.

During the reign of the Safavid dynasty in Iran, the arts of calligraphy, gilding, tiling painting, miniatures, architecture and carpet weaving approached their highest level. In this period, the Iranian artists created very interesting designs that since have been imitated in many carpet weaving countries.

The ability of the weavers of the Safavid period was so complete and sophisticated that since then only a limited number of designers have been able to re-create the original Safavid motifs. The master weavers of the Safavid dynasty created about 1500 carpets and rugs, some of which are magnificent masterpieces known all over the world.

The Safavid kings, such as Shah Tahmasb (1524-1587) and Shah Abbas (1587-1629), patronized these master weavers. They set up many weaving workshops in Kashan, Isfahan, Tabriz, Ghazvin, Kerman, and Josheghan and in other suitable areas of Iran.

Persian carpet in Europe

Diaries of well-known European travelers such us Tavernier, Chardin and others who visited Iran in this period were about carpets weaving in Iran. Their travel essays provide excellent source material of that era. In that period, the simple and rustic profession evolved into the art and elegant technique of carpet weaving.

Persian carpets became very popular in European nations in this period. The elegant technique of carpet weaving and large quantities of carpets started to flow towards the European markets.

The main categories of carpets in the Safavid era are classified by their design as follows: Medallion, vase, hunting scenery, tree and shrub, Harati, garden.

One can say that the Safavid period was the Renaissance for the fine arts in Iran. In this period the initiative and the ability of the artist and the interest of the people were the main reasons for the Persian carpets becoming famous in the entire world. To possess a fine and lovely Persian carpet with its beautiful colours became a privilege in every house.

In the 16th century even the name “Persian carpet” had a magic sound. In England, one of the members of the Middle Temple sent a letter to his representative in Iran. He wrote:

“There are thick woolen carpets in Persia. Their colors are fast and stable. Even when it gets wet, or one spills wine or even vinegar on it, the carpet does no stain.
Go to the big cities and small villages. Find out how they dye the carpets. If possible, bring along an artisan with good knowledge and experience so that the art of dyeing and weaving carpets may also spread and be known in this country.”

Some of the skilled artists who contributed to the splendor, prestige and fame of the Persian carpets in this period were Alireza Abbasi, Mirak and Sultan Mohammad.

The Art of Carpets Weaving in the Period of 1722-1925

In the century after the death of Shah Abbas, and during the revolt of the Afghan Army (1721) interest in the fine arts ebbed in Iran. One of the most important arts: carpet weaving began a serious decline and no innovations occurred in carpet weaving.

Only some carpets were woven for the mosques and shrines. Unfortunately, these carpets rotted and wore out, as there was no longer anyone trained to take care of them. Some of European firms exported some of these carpets to the different Museums in Europe and America, where one can still admire them.

Finally, during the Afghan revolt nothing remained of the Persian arts and handcrafts.

During their domination and even during the reign of Nader Shah and karim Khan Zand, the carpet industry had altogether lost its importance and splendor.

Ghajarieh Period

Ghajarieh Period is another important time in the history of persian handmade carpet. Only at the end of the Ghajarieh period this art, once more, began to regain its fame. In that period both in Iran and abroad the wealthy and prosperous families became interested in possessing Persian carpets. They began to buy and collect them once again many merchants and tourists went to Iran and brought fine carpets back to their own countries.

Their admiration and their description of these carpets sparked European interest in Persian carpets to a very high level. Towards the middle of the 19th century the exportation of carpets to the European and American markets under the supervision of the merchants in Tabriz. They began to collect many old carpets from native tribesmen who lived in different parts of Iran. After sorting, these carpet bales were exported to Istanbul ( Turkey ).

European representatives of big firms rushed into the free port to encounter cunning Turkish merchants who labeled the rugs deceptively as Turkish carpets. Many of the carpets sold during that period bore the Turkish label until this practice was discovered.

As the request for Persian carpets increased the production was insufficient to meet the demand. The commercial firms established many factories and installed looms in Azerbaijan and other parts of Iran, such as Khorasan, Kerman and in the central regions. In Tabriz, Kashan, Isfahan, Arak (former Sultan-Abad), thousands of weavers worked fervently to supply and satisfy their customers.

In this period, the fame of Persian carpets reached its peak. The demand for these carpets was so great that many European and American firms sent their representative to Iran and established factories in the regional weaving centers. The Persian carpets, which were so sought after in the western countries, were produced and exported in large quantities. The carpets were soon being demanded by the affluent in all parts of the world.

In 1883, a famous English firm, Ziegler, established branches in Tabriz and Sultan-Abad. They financed and supported the weavers, providing them with the necessary materials. Some exclusive rugs and carpets ordered by European firms and woven by the skilled artisans are still rare examples of this period.

The Art of Carpet Weaving from 1925 till Now

After World War I, due to the national feelings of the Iranians toward the Europeans, foreign firms closed their factories. They still continued their trade with the Persian merchants. However, in the last 75 years, the industry and the trade in Persian carpets in Iran developed and improved. This progress was not always steady.

During these years the production and the trade in Persian carpets had several ups and downs. That was mainly due to the political and economic upheaval of the early half decade.

When the Second World War started in 1939, the industry began to recede gradually; nevertheless this had little influence on the exportation of carpets to the United States. At the end of the War, upon abundance of raw material, the carpet industry regained its former glory.

The production and exportation of carpets from Iran has always been subject to the political and economical situation.

Reference: “The Persian Carpet” by Javad Nassiri

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