The origin of rug making is a subject left for speculation, and its evolution over the centuries is know only in vaguest outline. As with most indigenous arts, its history has been almost ignored by its native culture. Only in recent times have efforts been made to piece together disjointed fragments of the story.

I may take either of two basic approaches to why pile rugs came into existence. The most popular is that propounded by Erdmann,who suggests that the first products of this type were made by nomadic shepherds. Another assumption is that the complex technique of the knotted pile rugs were established in city culture.The rugs were also inspired by the artwork of such centers as Babylon. Greek and Roman sources refer repeatedly to rugs of the East, this was a decorative medium in ancient times.The rugs may have been knotted or woven in looped pile technique.

In 1949 when soviet archeologist excavated a Scythian burial site at Pazirik near the outer Mongolian border.A rug six feet square was uncovered and has been dated with some certainty as fifth century B.C.The design is sophisticated, with five border stripes.The knot count is about 225 per sq inch. Also among the burial mounds at Pazirik they found kalim ( flat weave ) fragments, woven in the slit tapestry still commonly found in the Middle East.The second oldest rug was probably a thousand years later. It was found during Sir Aurel Stein’s early twentieth century explorations of Eastern Turkestan.At Nira and several other locations along the old caravan routes, number of small rug fragments were found that have been placed between the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.

The next evidence comes from Anatolia, where the seljuks left a number of well preserved rugs.In 1905, at the Mosque of Ala-ad-Din in Konia, three large rugs and five fragments were discovered which have been dated from thirteenth century.In 1930 four more rugs of a similar type were found in Beyshehir, just south of Konia,Turkey.From fourteen and fifteen centuries we find in European paintings a number of rugs that originated in Anatolia, they were brought to Europe in significant numbers.

Numerous Arab geographers like Yakut, Mukadassi and Hawkle provide reference that rugs were made during the ninth century in Fars. There is also evidence that the thirteenth century palace of Ghazan Khan near Tabriz was furnished with rugs from Fars. In persia ( Iran ) we know rugs were woven in Kashan and Isfahan at least since the beginning of seventeenth century. Tabriz and the entire northwest of persia have also long been described as an important weaving center of rugs.The sixteenth century was great importance to the persian rugs and local arts under Sefavids,the first native dynasty since the Arab conquest.The course of these rulers ( 1499 to 1722 ) includes what is considered to be the classic period of persian rug weaving.Among the 2500 to 3000 rugs that have survived from this period, only a few are dated. Among these rugs is the famous Ardabil Mosque rug, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London dated 1539.

In persian rugs four major areas are chosen as centers of rug production: central Persia, Tabriz, Kashan and eastern Persia. The most important area is central Persia in Kashan and Isfahan we know that rugs were woven since the begining of the seventeenth century.Tabriz and the entire northwest of Persia have also long been described as an important weaving centers of rugs.Kerman was also a major rug weaving center it was laid in ruins in 1794 by Mohammed Aga Qajar. The rugs woven in Kerman are usually floral and are refer to as vase rugs.

The last major area, eastern Persia, is also as a likely source of Sefavid rugs, but many rugs alleged to be from here were probably woven in old India ( Afghanistan, Pakistan & India). Herat ( Iran ) was the major city of the district, and it had been the capital of Shah Rukh in the early fifteenth century.There is a large group of rugs known by the name of Herat.

In my next blog i will be writing about different types of rug dyes, knots and weaves.

Tahir Sheikh


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