Now used as items of luxury that enhance the esthetic outlook of a place, carpets or rugs were initially considered a thing of necessity. These rugs and carpets were woven to help cover the houses of tribesmen. Floors and walls were covered with thick woven carpets or rugs to ward off the cold and damp weather. A piece of woven art and utilized as an item of necessity has now taken the form of a luxury item used to adorn homes or offices – giving them a cozy and posh look.
Origination of the Art of Rug/Carpet Weaving
When you run your hands through a plush carpet or rug, you must feel that this art is not easy. The art of rug weaving is indeed difficult, requiring extreme finger dexterity. It dates back to more than 2,500 years. The initial craftsmen who mastered this art passed it through generations, which is why this art is alive and thriving.
One of the most important aspects of uncovering the history of Persian rugs is that this art has witnessed and survived various periods and reigns of peace as well as invasions and wars. The current form of this art speaks volumes about how it has grown through the times and has adapted to technological advancements.
History of the Persian Rugs
Understanding the historical background of Persian rugs’ art is significantly linked to the various power shifts that Persia (now Iran) went through. The countless rulers that ruled Persia brought their inspirations and amendments to this art of weaving rugs. Thus, the Persian rugs’ progression has to be understood in conjunction with the country’s various ruling dynasties.
As narrated by the historical accounts, Cyrus the Great is said to bring this into Persia. Following his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, he fell in love with the exquisiteness of these designs of posh Persian rugs. It was not as if this art was uncommon before Cyrus, but the uniqueness of the designs and their splendor is surely linked with the era of Cyrus the Great.
In 1949, some of the archaeologists from Russia came across the oldest knotted carpets in the valley of Pazyryk in the mountains of Siberia. This knotted carpet is claimed to be dating back to the 5th century BC. This antique carpet was one of the most prized preserved items, an example of how fine this art was and how much it has developed. It is exhibited at the Heritage Museum of Leningrad (St. Petersburg).
An idea of how old these Persian woven carpets and rugs are can be assessed from the fact that the early writing records of ancient Greeks also talked about these rugs. Homer, an ancient Greek writer, mentioned Persian rugs as a splendid carpet, covering the body of Patroklos in Ilias. Odyssey Book VII and X also have pieces of evidence about these rugs as signs of poshness.
Though there is no way of knowing whether these ancient Greek writings talk about pile weaves, the early fragments of flat-woven rugs can be linked to the 4th or 5th century BC. These artistic flat-woven carpets were discovered in Turfan, China. Turfan is still well-known for producing high-quality carpets.
The Sasanian Dynasty (224 – 641 AD)
Chinese texts from the Sassanid Dynasty that ruled from 224 to 641 AD are the widely acclaimed initial documents that talk about these carpets. After his conquest of Ctesiphon, the capital of Sassanid, Emperor Heraclius brought a handful of carpets with him. This is said to be one of the major milestones in Persian rugs’ history as their fame broadened.
Alongside Heraclius, Arabs are also said to have brought back various carpets and rug pieces during that time, which further increased its popularity. One of these carpets’ historic remains brought from the conquest of the Sassanid Dynasty is known as “Springtime of Khosro.” It is a famous garden carpet and is considered the most precious of all.
This famous garden carpet was gigantic – about 400 x 100 feet – and weighed several hundred tons. The official description of this historic rug can never do justice to the sheer art involved in it. However, it was described as having a beautiful border comprising of a colorful flower bed with earth sketched in gold color in the background.
The plants were depicted in silk with fruits shown as colored stones. The crystals woven in the carpet emanated the illusion of water. It is claimed that the king gave orders to make this rug for this stroll so that he is surrounded by nature. This magnificent piece of art was cut and sold in separate pieces after decades of preservation.
The Conquests of Turkish and Mongol
For Persian rugs, the conquest and domination of Arab Caliphates, originally a Turkish tribe, was the most important in their history. The domination lasted from 1038 to 1194 AD. The women of this Turkish tribe, Seljuk, were highly skillful in creating knotted carpets. Such was the skill and craft of this tribe that their influence is still alive in the provinces of Azerbaijan and Hamadan as these provinces took the most influence from Seljuk. They use the Turkish knot in weaving rugs to this day.
The reign of 1220 to 1449 AD witnessed the conquest of Mongols, which is documented in history as very brutal. There had been a lot of bloodsheds, and people were killed mindlessly. However, when peace prevailed, the Mongol ruler Shah Rokh, who ruled from 1409 – 1446, ordered the reconstruction of historical places and encouraged artistic activities. The palace of Tabriz was significantly adorned with these majestic rugs covering the floors and the ceilings alike.
The Safavid Dynasty
The widest collections of the historic Persian rugs preserved in the world now belong to the Safavid Dynasty. This reign or dynasty is one of the most thriving ones for Persian rugs’ art. Under the leadership of Shah Abbas (1587 – 1629), the country witnessed flourishing trade and thriving commerce with Europe.
It was the fruit of this wide network of trade that the capital of Persia, Isfahan, became one of the world’s most glorious cities. Several workshops for artisans working on these carpets were established. The artists were provided platforms to showcase their magnificent designs. Along with pure silk, gold and silver threads were used to make beautiful Persian rugs; thus, adding to their beauty and art. One of these beautiful art pieces now adorns the famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London as the centerpiece.
Afghan Invasion – A Dark Era for the Art of Persian Rugs
The Afghan rule on Persia was short-lived, and it was the worst era for the development and prosperity of the art of Persian rugs. The Afghans destroyed the beautiful city of Isfahan and made zero efforts to develop any form of art. This invasion ended with the conquest of Persia by Nader Khan from Khorasan. During the rule of Nader Khan, also known as Shah of Persia, almost all the country’s resources were directed at destroying the remains of the Afghans and Turks. We have no valuable pieces of art from this era. It was only due to the consistent efforts of the small villagers that the art of Persian rugs lived through these dark times.
End of the 19th Century
During the last years of the 19th century, Qatar’s reign brought this faded art of Persian rugs alive. The trade and craftsmanship regained its lost importance, and the art flourished throughout the world. The merchandise from the palace of Tabriz was sold throughout the region and in Europe and America. This was when the popularity of Persian rugs reached Istanbul as the glorious carpets from Tabriz’s palace were traded.
The end of this century also witnessed numerous international companies and organizations setting up their export businesses to make the Persian rugs known worldwide. This gave rise to an organized production of art that catered to the western markets. Ziegler & Co. was one of the first international companies that had set up businesses in the country.
The Bottom Line
Today, it is not only the neighboring countries that enjoy the exquisiteness of the Persian rugs. These beautiful rugs with glorious designs adorn numerous places throughout Europe and the rest of the world. These Persian rugs equate a symbol of poshness and elite style.