The land known as Persia is associated with popular tales from the book “1,001 Arabian Nights,” like "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp," "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.” In particular, "Prince Housain's Carpet” captured the imagination of the West. In the story, this seemingly worthless carpet from Tangu could fly, a truly magical feat in the times before airplanes. This “magic carpet” or “flying carpet” was, naturally, a Persian rug.

Today, we know Persia better as Iran, and it’s still home to highly artistic master craftsmen in urban centers as well as nomadic camps across the wilderness who make beautiful and intricate rugs and carpets, although not one of them is known to actually fly.

Nonetheless, a Persian rug has a distinct look to it, a sort of ancient magic seems to infuse the designs. That’s because techniques have been passed down through generations of rug-weaving families, each of which has its own original patterns, unique qualities, and style. In the past, all large homes had rug-weaving sheds in the back, where rugs would be made for the house and also to use for bartering and paying taxes.

Even in small homes in Iran, the whole floor will be covered with rugs, although the wealth of the family can be measured by the quality rather than the quantity of the rugs. It’s not uncommon for Iranians to invest heavily in rug purchases, because they can always be sold on the Western market.

Historically, there was a standard rug arrangement in the traditional Iranian home. In the middle would be the central rug or “mian farsh,” which is about five-to-six yards long and roughly six-to-eight feet wide. At one end would be the “kellegi” or principal rug, about 10-to-12 feet long and six feet wide. Then, along the sides of the mian farsh would be two “kenarehs,” or long skinny rugs measuring five-to-six yards long by one yard wide.

Until the turn of the century, Persian rugs were most often long and narrow, because of the long rectangular shape of most rooms and because they were made on narrow nomad looms. In the late 20th century, that practice shifted, with 65 percent of rugs coming out of urban workshops and 35 percent being made by nomads.

In Iran, rugs are used in public festivals and even as flags or banners to deck houses. Islamic mosques tend to have particularly fine rugs, given to them by rich supporters. Mus...

Persian rugs are usually made of wool, cotton, and silk, and some Baluchi tribes even use goat’s hair for the selvages at the edge of the rug. The Kashan district produces the most silk rugs, as well as the the finest and most expensive Persian rugs, using locally spun silk. The fine thread is knotted on a foundation of silk, creating an extremely dense silk pile, up to 770 knots per square inch. These rugs, however, are not practical for floor covering, and are used more for decoration.

Iranian cotton is used for the warp and weft of many Persian rugs; a cotton foundation gives the rug a firm back so it lies evenly on the floor and won’t wrinkle even after washing. Coarser, inexpensive rugs are made out of hand-spun cotton in smaller villages. However, since World War II, Iran has stopped importing factory-spun cotton from India, and cotton mills are located in major rug-producing regions, including Isfahan, Kashan, Kazvin, Yezd, and Tabriz.

Nomads have been making the warp and weft of their rugs out of wool for centuries. Their wool comes from sheep of every color, from off-white to black, along with cream, yellow, and brown. This variation enriches the weaver's palette.

Beauty and symmetry rather than symbolism is most often the inspiration for Persian rug design. Patterns in Persian rugs often draw on natural subjects like trees, leaves, sprays of flowers, birds, and animals, as well as Chinese and Arabic geometric motifs. The swirls linking larger decorative motifs likely come from the common “cloud-based pattern.”

However, it is said that chrysanthemum and lotus flowers represent happiness and fertility, while the iris stands for religious liberty. To the Kurds in West Iran, a group of four roses is the sacred tree of life, representing divine power and everlasting life. The palm tree may symbolize blessings or secret wishes granted, while a weeping willow signals sorrow and death.

Animals are also thought to have meaning, like the sacred dog who went into Mecca before Muhammad, and a rooster is sometimes put into a rug to ward off the evil eye. Lions, falcons, hawks, and other animals of prey are believed to signify courage, victory, and glory. The heron is associated with longevity. Household objects like lamps, vases, and combs appear on rugs, too. The lamp could be the sacred lantern of Mecca, the comb cleanliness and good grooming. Swords, of course, are symbols of supreme power.

Shah Abba, who ruled Iran from 1586 to 1638, established his own rug-making shops that produced breathtaking carpets. He inspired a whole class of Persian rug patterns inspired by the lily, which have been altered and elaborated on over the centuries. These Shah Abbas palmettes are often woven into the central field of the rug, connected by tendrils.

The pine or palm-leaf pattern (known as a paisley in the West and a “bota” or “Mir-i-bota” in Iran) has unknown origins, but the design traveled from Persia to Kashmir to Europe. The common Herati pattern or Feraghan has a central diamond shape framed by four gently curling leaves—it often appears in the central field of rugs made in Senneh, Kurdistan, and Feraghan. A similar pattern called “Mina Khani” is frequently seen in Kurdish nomadic rugs.

Rugs from Kirman often have portraits woven into them, featuring European celebrities or historical figures like Napoleon, Frederick the Great, or the pope, as well as shahs or wealthy aristocrats of Iran. Others have Watteauesque pictorial scenes or ancient motifs from Assyria.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

LACMA Luxury Textiles

LACMA Luxury Textiles

Textile collectors shouldn't miss this microsite from the LA County Museum of Art, a great reference on European an… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Semi Antique Persian Shiraz Qashgai 4'.2"x5'.11" Handknotted Rug 100%wool -l1038x6 1900's Authentic 100+yrs Old Well Worn Antique Wool Quashqaie Persian Rug9x12 1920s Museum Masterpiece Hand Knotted Antq Saroukk Mohajeran Persian RugOld Estate Antique Heriz Serapi Handmade Persian Oriental Rug.Vintage Semi Antique Persian Shirazee Wool Area Rug 8 X 6 (pk669)Circa 1910s Antique Persian Shiraz Qashkai Carpet Rug 5.8x8 Vegetable Dye WoolAntique Southwest Persian Rug 5' 1" X 8' Qashqai ? Khamseh ? Shiraz ?Duke & Shah 9'.4"x12'.7" Persian Tabriz Overdyed Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk44Vintage Semi Antique Persian Balouch Wool Area Rug 7 X 4 (pk724)Circa 1910s Antique Persian Lilihan Malayer Rug 4.4x7 Animal Subject_collectable10x13 1960's Breathtaking Masterpiece Hand Knotted Heriz Bakhtiar Persian RugCa1930s Ve Dy Antique Persian Qashqai Yalameh Serapi Heriz 6.7x9.4 Caucasian RugSemi Antique Persian Oriental 5'.2"x9'.9" Handknotted Rug 100%wool -l106C 1930 Persian Serapi Gorovan Stunning Exquisite Superb Hand Made Rug S9x12 1940's Museum Masterpiece Hand Knotted Antq Silver Wool Tabrizz Persian Rug8x10 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Heriz Serapi Oriental RugDuke & Shah Vrc 9'x12'.3" Persian Tabriz Overdyed Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk2694x6 1900s Museum Piece Hand Knotted Well Worn 100+yrs Antq Malayer Persian RugVintage Semi Antique Persian Qashqaii Wool Area Rug 7 X 6 (pk763)9x12 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Heriz Serapi Oriental RugSemi Antique Persian Shiraz Qashgai 3'.2"x9'.3" Handknotted Rug 100%wool -l95 Ca1930s Veg Dyies Antique Persian Serapi Kazak Karacheh Heriz 7.9x12.2 RugCa1930s Ve D Antique Persian Malayer Sarouk 3.3x6.5 Serapi Heriz Estate Sale RugDuke & Shah Vrc Vintage 11'x12' Persian Overdyed Handknotted Area Rug Wool Pile Ca1930s Veg Dyies Antique Persian Serapi Kazak Karacheh Heriz 6.4x9.7 RugC 1900 Persian Serapi Karaja Stunning Exquisite Superb Hand Made Rug SDuke & Shah Vrc 9'.7" X 12' Persian Tabriz Overdyed Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk23C 1920 Kurdish Stunning Antique Persian Exquisite Hand Made Rug HC 1940 Mint Kurdish Yalameh Persian Stunning Exquisite Bidjar Hand Made Rug HVintage Semi Antique Persian Hamadan Wool Area Rug 6 X 4 (pk782)C 1900 Stunning Persian Serapi Karaja Hand Made Exquisite Rug SuperbC 1940 Mint Kurdish Bijar Persian Stunning Exquisite Bidjar Hand Made Rug S10x14 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Bakhshayesh Heriz Serapi Oriental RugApprox. 40-50 Years Old Persian Mahal Rug 4.6x6.6 Offered Here At No ReserveElegant Hand Knotted Persian Balouch Wool Area Rug 5 X 3 (tx339)Duke & Shah 9'x10' Persian Antique Silk Inlay Overdyed Hand Knotted Wool Rug Shirvan Caucasian Antique Persian Stunning Exquisite Hand Made RugVintage Persian Shiraz 4'x8' Hand Knotted Wool Rug L7010x13 1940'smagnificent Hand Knotted Antique Wool Vases Mashadd Persian RugMint C 1930 Persian Serapi Karaja Stunning Exquisite Superb Hand Made Rug HCr.1940 Antique Stunning Persian Kirman Hand Made Exquisite Kerman RugAntique Persian Kurdish Caucasian Russian Genji Kuba Rug Long Runner 3 X 10 Ft Cr.1950 Persian Serapi Heriz Stunning Exquisite Superb Hand Made RugCa1930s Ve Dy Antique Persian Serapi Kazak Karacheh Heriz 2.8x10 Estate Sale RugSemi Antique Persian Shiraz Qashgai 5'.1x7'.9" Handknotted Rug 100%wool -l1074x6.5 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Afshar Bidjar Oriental RugMint Cr.1930 Hamadan Shahsavan Antique Persian Stunning Exquisite Hand Made RugCa1930s Veg Dy Antique Persian Malayer Ferahan Sarouk 4.4x7 Serapi Rug Ca1930s Veg Dy Antique Persian Serapi Kazak Kurdish Bidkenehbijar Heriz 5x8 RugCa1930s Vd Antique Persian Malayer Sarouk 4x6.1 Serapi Heriz Estate Sale Rug Ca1930s Antique Persian Hajjalili Tabriz Serapi Heriz 3.8x5.8 Estate Sale Rug2.7x10.4 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Kazak Heriz Serapi Oriental Rug3.1x5.4 Exquisite Hand Made Wool Persian Heriz Serapi Oriental RugExquisite Turquoise Persian Tabriz 10'x13' Overdyed Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk37C 1930 Antique Persian Nahavand Stunning Exquisite Hand Made Rug 108x10 1960s Exquisite Fine Hand Knotted Rare Design Antique Wool Khoy Persian RugExquisite Persian Tabriz 8'x11' Overdyed & Muted Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk40Exquisite Persian Tabriz 9'x12' Overdyed & Muted Hand Knotted Wool Rug Pk50Mint Cr.1940 Bijar Kurdish Antique Persian Bidjar Exquisite Hand Made Rug HElegant Hand Knotted Persian Bokhara Wool Area Rug 5 X 3 (tx340)