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Carpets in Ancient Persia


Carpet is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished manifestations of Persian art and culture dating back to ancient Persia (c. 3500 BC).

Persian carpets can be divided into three categories: Farsh/Qali (carpet sized anything bigger than 3أ—2 square meters), Qalicheh (meaning rug, sized smaller than 3x2 square meters), and nomadic carpets known as Kilim, (including Zilu, meaning rough carpet).

Ancient Times

The art of carpet weaving has been practiced in Iran since ancient times.

According to evidences and the view of experts, the 500 BC Pazyric carpet dates back to the Achaemenian period.

With the passage of time, the materials used in carpets, including wool and cotton, decay. Therefore, archaeologists are rarely able to make any particularly useful discoveries related to carpets during excavations.

However, what has remained from early times as evidence of carpet-weaving is nothing more than a few fragments. These fragments do not help recognize the carpet-weaving characteristics of the era in which they were made.

Historical records show that the Achaemenian court of Cyrus the Great at Pasargad was decked with magnificent carpets. This was over 2,500 years ago. Woolen or silk Persian carpets were renowned in the royal courts of the region.

The Baharestan (spring) carpet of Khosro I was made for the main audience hall of the Sassanian imperial palace at Ctesiphon in Sassanian province of Khvarvaran (nowadays Iraq). It was 450 feet long and 90 feet wide and depicted a formal garden.

Weaving Process

From the yarn fiber to the colors, every part of the Persian carpet is traditionally handmade from natural ingredients over the course of many months. This arduous process is shown in the Japanese/Iranian film Carpet of Wind, directed by Kamal Tabrizi.

In 8th century AD, Azarbaijan province was among the largest centers of carpet and rough carpet (zilu) weaving in Iran. The province of Tabarestan, besides paying taxes, sent 600 carpets to the courts of caliphs in Baghdad every year. At that time, the main items exported from that region were carpets; small carpets were made specially for saying prayers.

During the reigns of the Seljuk and Ilkhanid dynasties, carpet weaving was still a booming business so much so that a mosque built by Ghazan Khan in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, was covered with superb Persian carpets.

Carpet designs depicted by miniature paintings belonging to the Timurid era lend proof to the development of this industry at that time. There is also another miniature painting of that time, which depicts the process of carpet weaving.

During that era, dyeing centers were set up next to carpet weaving looms. The industry began to thrive until the attack on Iran by the Mongol army.


There is much variety among classical Persian carpets of the 16th and 17th century. Numerous sub-regions have contributed distinctive designs to Persian carpets of this period such as Tabriz and Lavar of Kerman.

Common motifs include scrolling vine networks, arabesques, palmettes, cloud bands, medallions and overlapping geometric compartments rather than animals and humans. Figural designs are particularly popular in the Iranian market and not nearly as common in carpets exported to the West.

Although carpet production is now mostly mechanized, traditional hand-woven carpets are still widely found all over the world, and usually are priced higher than their machine woven counterparts. Many fine pieces of Persian carpets can be seen in Tehran’s Carpet Museum.

Wool is the most common material used for carpets but cotton is frequently used for the foundation of carpets. Silk carpets date back to at least the 16th century in Sabzevar and 17th century in Kashan and Yazd.

Silk carpets are less common than wool carpets since silk is more expensive and less durable; they tend to increase in value with age. Due to their rarity, value and lack of durability, silk carpets are often displayed on the wall like tapestries rather than floor coverings.

The major classical centers of carpet production in Persia were in Tabriz (1500-50), Kashan (1525-1650), Herat (1525-1650), and Kerman (1600-50).

The majority of carpets from Tabriz have a central medallion and quartered corner medallions superimposed over a field of scrolling vine ornament, sometimes punctuated with mounted hunters, single animals or animal combat scenes.

Kashan is known for its silk carpet production. Its carpets are among the most valuable in existence. The Herat carpets, or ones of similar design created in Lahore, Pakistan, and Agra, India, are the most numerous in western collections. They are characterized by a red field with scrolling vine ornament and palmettes with dark green or blue borders.

Turkbaf (Ghiordes)

The difference between Anatolian (Turkish) and Persian carpets is today largely one of tradition. Typically, a traditional Persian carpet is tied with a single looping knot (Persian or Senneh Knot), while the traditional Anatolian carpet is tied with a double looping knot (Turkish or Ghiordes Knot).

For every “vertical strand”‌ of thread in a carpet, an Anatolian carpet has two loops as opposed to the one loop for the various Persian carpets that use a Persian ‘single’ knot.

Ultimately, this process of double knotting in traditional Anatolian carpets results in a slightly more block-like image compared to the traditional single knotted Persian carpet. The traditional Anatolian style also reduces the number of knots per square cm.

Today, it is common to see carpets woven in both Turkey and Iran using either of the two knotting styles.

Source: irib.ir

Other links:

Iranian Carpets: Gabbeh

Tapestry in Iran

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