Perhaps the first Persian Carpets were not made by Iranian populations, but carpet weaving tradition reached such a high climax in Persia to become the allmark of local art.

Sheep farming, wool, Persian rugs

Iran has been long referred to as Persia; in fact its ancient Greek name is ‘Persis’. The Persian plateau has been inhabited since prehistoric times by populations that principally made their living on agriculture, pastoralism and also practiced metallurgy. The very first handmade carpets were manufactured in this area thanks to the wide availability of raw materials like wool.

The Mongols conquered Persia in 1206 founding the Ilkhanid dynasty. They began producing court rugs, transforming the function and the value of these handicrafts. The art of handmade carpets continued even when at the end of the 14th century Persia was invaded by the Timurids, a population from central Asia founded by Tamerlano. These people encouraged miniature art using a particular scheme which was also adopted to weave motifs of medallion-design carpets. During the Timurid dynasty the first Buddhist patterns were integrated and peonies, lotus flowers and clouds motifs appeared in the design of these rugs.


The history of Persian Carpets prior to the 15th century is poorly documented. In the 15th century these carpets progressively abandoned geometrical motifs in favour of a more flower style pattern, probably due to the contact with Chinese art.


Persian carpet with geometrical pattern


Persian Carpet, with floral decoration


The Persian culture and art reached their zenith in 1502, in concomitance with the rise of the Safavid dynasty which governed Persia up to 1736. The magnificence of such dynasty found in the art of carpet weaving one of its main artistic expressions, also because this art promoted decorative and technical innovations of remarkable importance which still characterize Persian rugs. Handwoven carpets became the bearer of local aesthetic taste and culture. This period also saw the appearance of the first pieces decorated with plant motifs that represented a specific reference to the Islam paradise..


Persian carpet with floral decoration


Craftsmen harmoniously orchestrated pale colours with purer hues, always using materials of top notch quality. In fact, in this period wool dyeing techniques became more and more refined and the colour palette expanded, offering artists the opportunity to create richer designs. The habit of relying on preparatory cartoons, often designed by famous miniaturists, was introduced at this time. The asymmetrical knot was adopted to reproduce softly outlined and loosely woven designs and borders became wider and rich in symbolism in persian carpets.

Absolute masterpieces of Persian rug weaving date back to this period. These include the Tabriz, the Isfahans, the Kashans, the Kermans, the Shiraz, the Herats and the Yazds, named after their place of origin. Some of the first specimens of these handicrafts are stored in important museums and also command the admiration from the western world. The Ardebil carpet, on display at the Victoria Albert Museum in London, owes its name to the city of Ardebil in which it was found and where it was probably woven around 1540.


Ardebil rug

Ardebil rug, Victoria Albert Museum, London


In 1722 Afghans deposed the last Safavid emperor and conquered all of Persia up to Isfahan. The new dominators moved its capital to Herat, further encouraging local handicraft. A new chapter in carpet weaving history was written in this period, characterized by meaningful changes, especially with regard to decorations. The Herati pattern, consisting of a central diamond-shaped motif with palmette pendants typical of the Safavid period, was adopted to decorate borders in which it often alternates with the Buddhist cloud pattern. The same ornament evolved into a new kind of design, the so-called ‘vase’, from which a grid of flower stems with Herati patterns originates.

The 19th century was a period marked by deep changes in Persian carpets weaving production. Foreign buyers came on the scene and the first mass-production started. The new markets brought some positive changes as well, with new decorative motifs and design formats. However, the negative effects largely offset the positive ones, especially in terms of quality.