History of carpet

Only during the past century have oriental rugs become valued throughout the world as works of art. Collectors often justify their attraction to these handcrafted oriental rugs by explaining that they wish to own a small piece of the rich and colourful history behind this art form. The works have the ability to transform interiors into extraordinary spaces. It remains unknown exactly at what point in time the first carpets were woven, but it is certain that the nomadic tribes of central Asia began the technique of knotting carpets.

The rearing of sheep (the prime source of carpet wool) is a traditional nomad occupation and because people of this period had to endure extreme cold, it is certain that the craft of weaving developed to replace the use of rough animal skins for warmth. For the nomad, rugs were both decorative and practical, serving as floor coverings and wall hangings, but also as curtains, door hangings and saddlebags.

The art of carpet weaving in Iran originated more than 2,500 years ago. Persian carpets and rugs were initially woven as articles of necessity to cover the floors of nomadic tribesmen, giving them protection from the cold and damp. The natural progression of the skill and craft involved in the creation of these works of art has been passed down from generation to generation over the centuries throughout periods of peace, invasion and war. As international trade developed, the variety of patterns and designs grew. 

Much of the progression of the Persian carpet lies in conjunction with the various rulers of the country throughout time. When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BC, he was struck by its splendour and many historians credit him for introducing the art of carpet making into Persia. It is said that the tomb of Cyrus, who was buried at Pasargadae near Persepolis, was covered with precious carpets. Even before his time, it is very likely that Persian nomads created at least very simple designs for their own homes. Their herds of sheep and goats provided them with high quality and durable wool for this purpose.

In 1949 Russian archaeologists discovered the oldest known knotted carpet in the Pazyryk valley, on the Altai Mountains of Siberia. Dating back to the 5th century BC the Pazyryk carpet is a fine example of the skill which existed and has been developed and refined over the centuries. The carpet survived over two millennium preserved in the frozen tombs of Scythian nobles, and is now the showpiece of the Hermitage Museum of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The intricacy of this rug suggests that even at this early date, the art of carpet weaving had progressed well beyond simple rugs designed for practical purposes.

After the period of domination by the Arab Caliphates, a Turkish tribe, named after their founder, Seljok conquered Persia. Their domination (1038 - 1194 AD) was of great importance in the history of Persian carpets. The Seljuk women were skillful carpet makers using Turkish knots. In the provinces of Azerbaijan and Hamadan where Seljuk influence was strongest and longest lasting, the Turkish knot is used to this day. 

The Mongol conquest and control of Persia (1220 – 1449) was initially brutal. However, they soon came under the influence of the Persians. The palace of Tabriz, belonging to the Ilkhan leader, Ghazan Khan (1295 - 1304) had paved floors covered with precious carpets. The Mongol ruler Shah Rokh (1409 - 1446) contributed to the reconstruction of much that was destroyed by the Mongols and encouraged all the artistic activities of the region. However, the carpets in this period were decorated with simple motifs, which were mainly geometric in style.

Today, carpet weaving is by far the most widespread handicraft in Iran. Persian carpets are renowned for their richness of colour, variety of spectacular artistic patterns and quality of design. In palaces, famous buildings, mansions and museums the world over, a Persian carpet is amongst the most treasured of possessions.

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