The Persian carpet (Pahlavi bōb Persian farš فرش, meaning "to spread" and qāli) is an essential part of Persian art and culture. Carpet-weaving is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished manifestations of Persian culture and art, and dates back to ancient Persia.
Persian carpets can be divided into three groups; Farsh / 'Qālii' (sized anything greater than 6x4 feet), Qālicheh (meaning rug, sized 6x4 feet and smaller), and nomadic carpets known as Kilim, (including Zilu, meaning rough carpet).
The first documented evidence on the existence of Persian carpets came from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid period (224 - 641 CE).
This art underwent many changes in various eras of the Iranian history to an extent that it passed an upward trend before the Islamic era until the Mongols invasion of Iran. After the invasion, the art began to grow again during the reign of the Mongol dynasties of Timurid and Ilkhanid.
With the passage of time, the materials used in carpets, including wool, silk and cotton, decay. Therefore archaeologists are rarely able to make any particularly useful discoveries during archaeological excavations. What has remained from early times as evidence of carpet-weaving is nothing more than a few pieces of worn-out carpets. Such fragments do not help very much in recognizing the carpet-weaving characteristics of pre-Seljuk period (13th and 14th centuries AD) in Persia.
In a unique archaeological excavation in 1949, the exceptional Pazyryk carpet was discovered among the ices of Pazyryk Valley, in Altai Mountains in Siberia. The carpet was found in the grave of a Scythian prince. Radiocarbon testing indicated that the Pazyryk carpet was woven in the 5th century BC. This carpet is 283 by 200 cm (approximately 9.3 by 6.5 ft) and has 36 symmetrical knots per cm² (232 per inch²).. The advanced weaving technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in this art. Pazyryk carpet is considered as the oldest carpet in the world. Its central field is a deep red color and it has two wide borders, one depicting deer and the other Persian horseman.
Growing the Carpet weaving after Seljukids (TURKS) in Iran and finding the oldest carpet of Pazyryk in "Altai Mountains" and also not being any equal word in the Old and Modern Persian languages for it, obviously shows that the main inventors of carpet are the Turkish people. Even in Iran, the best Persian Rug comes from TABRIZ city, which is the Azeri-Turkic Speaking territory.
However, it believed that the carpet from Pazyryk is not likely a nomadic product, but a product of an Achaemenid carpet production centre.
Historical records show that the Achaemenian court of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade was decked with magnificent carpets. This was over 2500 years ago. Alexander II of Macedonia is said to have been dazzled by the carpets in the tomb area of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade.
By the sixth century, Persian carpets of wool or silk were renowned in court circles throughout the region. The Bahârestân (spring) carpet of Khosrow I was made for the main audience hall of the Sasanians imperial Palace at Ctesiphon in Sasanian province of Khvârvarân (nowadays Iraq). It was long and wide and depicted a formal garden. In 7th century CE With occupation of the Sasanian capital, Tuspawn, the Baharestan carpet was taken by the Arabs, cut into small fragments and divided among the victorious soldiers as booty.
According to historians, the famous Tāqdis throne was covered with 30 special carpets representing 30 days of a month and four other carpets representing the four seasons of a year.
In the 8th century A.D. Azarbaijan Province was among the largest centers of carpet and rough carpet (ziloo) 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, and small carpets for saying prayers. Furthermore, the carpets of Khorassan, Sistan and Bukhara, because of their prominent designs and motifs were on high demands among purchasers.
During the reigns of the Seljuq and Ilkhanate 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. Sheeps were specially breeded to produce fine wool for weaving 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 available 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.
The earliest surviving of the Persian carpets from this period is of a Safavid (1501-1736) carpet known as the Ardabil Carpet, currently in V&A Museum in London. This most famous of Persian carpets has been the subject of endless copies ranging in size from small carpets to full scale carpets. There is an 'Ardabil' at 10 Downing Street and even Hitler had an 'Ardabil' in his office in Berlin.
The carpets are woven in 1539-40 according to the dated inscriptions. The foundation is of silk and the pile of wool with a knot density at 300-350 knots per square inch (470-540.000 knots per square metres). The size of the carpets are 34 1/2 feet by 17 1/2 feet (10,5 metres x 5,3 metres).
There is much variety among classical Persian carpets of the 16th and 17th century. There are numerous sub-regions that contribute distinctive designs to Persian carpets of this period such as Tabriz and Lavar 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 are not nearly as common in carpets exported to the west.
The weaving of pile rugs is a difficult and tedious process which, depending on the quality and size of the rug, may take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete.
To begin making a rug, you need a foundation consisting of warps strong, thick threads of cotton, wool or silk which run the length of the rug and wefts similar threads which pass under and over the warps from one side to the other. The warps on either side of the rug are normally combined into one or more cables of varying thickness that are overcast to form the selvedge.
Weaving normally begins by passing a number of wefts through the bottom warp to form a base to start from. Loosely piled knots of dyed wool or silk are then tied around consecutive sets of adjacent warps to create the intricate patterns in the rug. As more rows are tied to the foundation, these knots become the pile of the rug. Between each row of knots, one or more shots of weft are passed to tightly pack down and secure the rows.
Depending on the fineness of the weave, the quality of the materials and the expertise of the weavers, the knot count of a hand made rug can vary anywhere from 16 to per square inch.
When the rug is completed, the warp ends form the fringes that may be weft-faced, braided, tasseled, or secured in some other manner.
There are three broad groups of vertical looms, all of which can be modified in a number of ways: the fixed village loom, the Tabriz or Bunyan loom, and the roller beam loom. The fixed village loom is used mainly in Iran and consists of a fixed upper beam and a moveable lower or cloth beam which slots into two sidepieces. The correct tension is created by driving wedges into the slots. The weavers work on an adjustable plank which is raised as the work progresses.
The Tabriz loom, named after the city of Tabriz, is used in North Western Iran. The warps are continuous and pass around behind the loom. Tension is obtained with wedges. The weavers sit on a fixed seat and when a portion of the carpet has been completed, the tension is released and the carpet is pulled down and rolled around the back of the loom. This process continues until the rug is completed, when the warps are severed and the carpet is taken off the loom.
The roller beam loom is a traditional Turkish village loom, but is also found in Iran and India. It consists of two movable beams to which the warps are attached. Both beams are fitted with ratchets or similar locking devices and completed work is rolled on to the lower beam. It is possible to weave very long rugs by these means, and in some areas of Turkey rugs are woven in series.
A small steel comb is sometimes used to comb out the yarn after each row of knots is completed. This both tightens the weave and clarifies the design.
A variety of instruments are used for packing the weft. Some weaving areas in Iran known for producing very fine pieces use additional tools. In Kerman, a saber like instrument is used horizontally inside the shed, and in Bidjar a heavy nail like tool is used. Bidjar is also famous for their wet loom technique, which consists of wetting the warp, weft, and yarn with water throughout the weaving process to make the elements thinner and finer. This allows for tighter weaving. When the rug is complete and dried, the wool and cotton expand to make the rug incredibly dense and strong.
A number of different tools may be used to shear the wool depending on how the rug is trimmed as the rug progresses or when it is complete. Often in Chinese rugs the yarn is trimmed after completion and the trimming is slanted where the color changes, giving an embossed three-dimensional effect.
To make a Turkish knot, the yarn is passed between two adjacent warps, brought back under one, wrapped around both forming a collar, then pulled through the center so that both ends emerge between the warps.
The Persian knot is used for finer rugs. The yarn is wrapped around only one warp, then passed behind the adjacent warp so that it divides the two ends of the yarn. The Persian knot may open on the left or the right, and rugs woven with this knot are generally more accurate and symmetrical.
Other knots include the Spanish knot looped around single alternate warps so the ends are brought out on either side and the Jufti knot which is tied around four warps instead.
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. Perhaps the best-known of the Tabriz works are the twin Ardabil carpets most likely made for the shrine at Ardabil (today in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Los Angeles County Museum).
Kashan is known for its silk carpet production, most famously, for the three silk hunting carpet masterpieces depicting mounted hunters and animal prey (currently in the collections of the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (aka the MAK), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Stockholm Museum). The Kashan carpets are among the most valuable in existence.
The Herat carpets, or ones of similar design created in Lahore 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.
The seven classes of Kerman carpet were defined by May Beattie. She identified their unique structure and named it the "vase technique." Carpet types in this group include garden carpets (ornamented with formal gardens and water channels) and the ogival lattice carpets. A fine and well-known example of the latter was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum under the guidance of William Morris. The influence of Persian carpets is readily apparent in his carpet designs.
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). This means that 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 sq cm.
Today, it is common to see carpets woven in both Turkey and Iran using either of the two knot styles. When comparing carpets the only way to definitively identify the knot used is to splay open the pile by bending the rug against itself and looking at the base of the knot.
Rugs for a specific purpose include: