Opulent and alluring, Persian carpets were being produced even before the first Persian Empire was built. Their popularity in the west first flourished during the Safavid period (1501-1722) and, despite modern day sanctions, the trade remains one of Iran’s largest foreign exports. Speaking to the people of Iran, you will quickly discover the sense of national pride over the industry. Iran’s weavers still use the same age-old techniques used by countless generations before them. Persian carpets have played a key role in the progression of Persian art and culture, and the industry therefore carries great historic importance.
The oldest known Persian carpet dates as far back as the 5th Century BC. Named the Pazyryk Rug (meaning ‘something under foot’) it is believed to have been woven at the time of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and its highly advanced knotting suggests carpet weaving began even before the Achaemenid rule. Pictured below;
Traditionally, hand-knotted Persian carpets have been classified into three categories: (1) City woven pieces, (2) Town or Village woven pieces, and (3) Nomadic woven pieces. The categories are most easily distinguished by their knotting technique.
City woven carpets are considered the finest of the three groups. Often made using a combination of silk and wool, their high knot-density allows for the most intricate of designs. Some of Iran’s most well known carpet weaving cities are Isfahan, Qum and Tabriz. Isfahan has been prominent in the Persian carpet industry for centuries, one of their most successful periods being the Safavid period. Whilst Qum has only been weaving carpets for the past 100 years and yet is still one of the most famous carpet weaving regions in Persia. Each city has its distinguishing features and designs, however they also share common characteristics like the Shah Abbas floral motif pictured above.
Pieces woven in the towns and villages of Persia are of a lower knot-count and quality than those woven in major cities. Nevertheless, some of the most iconic Persian designs originate from this group. The famous Ziegler carpet is a great example – the softer colours used to make them are ideal for the often neutral interiors of European homes. Bijar carpets are known for their thick weave and excellent durability. Seneh carpets, produced in the town of Sanajad, are well known for being extremely fine in quality. Sanajad and Bijar were also notably the first regions to produce kilims, which are now very well known throughout the world.
Lastly, nomadic carpets are woven by the ethnic tribes of Iran. Unlike city, town and village pieces, which are woven for commercial intent, nomads primarily weave items for their own personal use. Their knotting technique and available equipment is more primitive, yet the imperfection this creates adds a rare character and charm to their carpets. Having to move their looms as they move from region–to–region, their carpets can often become slightly wavy or misshapen as an example.