History of Rugs and Carpets

The begining of rug weaving

Exactly when Persian knotted rugs and carpets came into existence is not known. The earliest pile-weave carpet/rug dates back to the 5th century B.C. It was discovered frozen in a Scythian burial site in the Altay Mountains of Siberia near the north-eastern border of Mongolia. The discovery of the Pazyryk rug/carpet proved that pile weaving is an ancient craft.

The size of the Pazyryk carpet was 6' by 6', and was woven with symmetric knots of about 200-225 per square inch. Even though it has Persian motifs it is uncertain what the origin of Pazyryk is. Some scholars believe that it was made in Persia and was imported. Others disagree and believe it was made near the area where it was found. Currently the Pazyryk carpet is in Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, Russia.

The great period of rug weaving

The greatest period of Persian art and especially rug and carpet weaving was during the reign of the Safavid Dynasty (1502-1722), mainly during the rule of Shah Abbas I (1588-1629). Shah Abbas himself was a skillful weaver. The Safavid rulers or Shahs established royal weaving workshops in the cities of Kashan, Kerman, Isfahan, Joshagan, Tabriz, Yazd and Shiraz. As a result, rug and carpet weaving was transformed from a nomadic craft into sophisticated art, transforming the geometric designs into curvilinear patterns.

The best-known example of this era is the famous pair of almost identical Ardabil carpets and rugs woven during the reign of Shah Tahmasp (1524-1576) of Safavid Dynasty, are both in museums. One is in Los Angeles, and the other in London. They date back to 1539-1540, and the origin of the rugs and carpets has been linked to Ardabil, Kashan, Mashad and Tabriz, as well as other places. The name of the designer, Maqsud of Kashan, has been woven into both rugs. The dimensions of both rugs and carpets are the same, 17' 6" by 36' 6", with silk foundation and 300 knots per square inch.

Early and Late 19th Century

The death of Shah Abbas and the invasion of Afghans at the end of the 17th century, carpet weaving once again fell into decline, and did not resurge until 200 years later. In the early 19th century the industry revived again, this time with the patronage of rich merchants of the cities of Tehran, Kerman, & Tabriz.

Rug and carpet weaving was introduced to Europe through Spain during the control of the Moors who ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula, south-western Europe, from the 8th through the 13th century.

In the late 19th century the rug and carpet industry began to take on a new form and definition. European companies began to set up looms in Persia. In large factory-like buildings, looms were setup and villagers were put to work weaving rugs and carpets designed upon the demands of the markets they were selling to. Some of the more famous companies are the Ziegler Company of Manchester, England who set up looms in Mahal in 1883 and produced what today is referred to the Sultanabad rugs, or the Petag Company of Germany who set up looms in Tabriz in 1885. Companies also found bases in Kashan in 1890, Kerman in 1885 and Sarouk in 1880. This sort of production spread throughout Persia and continued to prosper until the beginning of World War II.