A To Z of Rugs

A To Z of Rugs

Hand made rugs and carpets have existed for nearly 2,500 years. In fact the oldest known surviving rug has been dated to the fifth century BC. Residing in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, the Pazyryk Rug, as it is now known was found in the Pazyryk Valley in the Altai mountains. Carpets from this period were probably made by nomadic peoples as floor coverings for their tents and were probably the only furnishings to be found inside.

Historically, Persia has been the centre of the carpet making craft, where it has now developed into an art form. It is believed that the Persian King, Cyrus, introduced the carpet making craft to Persia after he conquered Babylon in about 539 BC. He was buried at Persepolis and it is said that his tomb is covered with very fine rugs and carpets

Perhaps the most important time in the history of Persian carpets came with the dynasty of the Safavid rulers (1499 – 1722). Under their patronage, the arts and crafts of Persia prospered due to their encouragement of contacts and trade with many European nations. Shah Abbas (1571 – 1629) transformed the new capital of Persia, Isfahan, into one one of the most glorious cities of Persia and he created a court workshop for carpets where master craftsmen and designers created pieces of true beauty and art. Most of the pieces coming out of these workshops were made primarily of silk with some even containing threads of gold and silver. As of today there are about 1500 pieces in museums and private collections dating from this period around the world.

Then came the Afghan invasion of 1722, in which the Afghans destroyed Isfahan. Their dominance was brief however, and Shah Nader Khan came to power. He spent the whole of his reign in campaigns against the Afghans, Russians and Turks. Thus during this period and for a time afterwards no carpets of any great note were made. In all probability, Persian carpet making traditions were likely only to be maintained by the nomadic tribes of Persia.

It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th century that the rug making art once again flourished with rug making centres opening up in Tabriz and exporting into Europe once again. Towards the end of this revival in carpet making some American and European companies set up businesses in Persia to organise handicraft production for western markets.

Today, carpet making is by far the most widespread handicraft in Iran; and the most well known throughout the rest of the world. So much so that Persian carpets are synonymous with hand made floor and area rugs. They are reknowned for their richness of colur, variety and clarity of patterns and quality of workmanship.

Following, are briefs of the different rug making regions throughout the world.

Rug Making Regions


Iran has a rich tradition of craftsmanship by tribes such as the Qashqai, the Lur and the Bakhtiari as well as from the magnificent Safavid period, when carpets were woven around hunting and garden themes.

Both Nomad and village dwellers created rich and varied weavings, featuring stylized shapes and geometric patterns. As well as weaving symbolic colours and patterns in to prayer rugs, their art also included realism, with many designs featuring people, animals and flowers.

Not only were these carpets used in the homes of the peoples that created them, they were also used to cover sacred parts of shrines and mosques, and as symbols of wealth by Royalty and merchants, who collected and displayed the best of them.

Their classic beauty quickly drew keen interest from Europe, and the rugs and carpets of Persia became a lucrative export

Read more about the different types ofPersian rugs and carpets.


Of all oriental rugs, Afghans are the most easily recognizable. They are made chiefly in Afghanistan, which lies south of Turkmenistan, and is inhabited largely by nomadic tribes.

In Afghan rugs, the base colour is almost always red. However, the red varies a great deal. The older Afghans are frequently copper-coloured, while the newer ones are a deep wine red. Their patterns are usually composed of large distinctive octagons, called Guls, which are treated very boldly. The general effect is very dark with the Gul divided into four blue and brown panels with the colour matching in opposite corners. Around the field are a number of borders which may sometimes be cream or white.

At first glance these rugs may resemble Turkoman rugs, but their weaving is usually much coarser, and the pile is not cut as close than the more expensive Turkomans.


Turkish carpets are among the most sought after household items all over the world. Their colours tones and patterns, with traditional motifs, have contributed to the status that Turkish carpets have maintained since the 13th century.

In the traditional households, women and girls take up carpet and kilim weaving as a hobby and as a means to earn money. The carpets are used as floor coverings while the kilims can be utilized as blankets, curtains, sofa covers and cushion covers.

Turkish rugs are also used extensively in the mosques of the region. As there are no chairs or benches in mosques, it is not uncommon to see a mosque covered from wall to wall with carpets.


The Caucasian region is home to many different peoples, languages and traditions. There are remnants of over a hundred tribes and over three hundred recorded dialects.

The designs of carpets from this region are almost entirely geometric, with stars, polygons and sometimes stylized Kufic writing. The rugs from this region can also be characterized by their use of strong, contrasting vividly hued colours, usually of reds, browns and greens.

Caucasian rugs can be both simple and refined. The simple designs consist of box forms with rosettes and other stylized floral patterns such as tulips and lilies. Animals and people can also be represented in these types of rugs. The more refined rugs can utilize the same design concepts but vastly more intricately combined. Repeat or all-over designs have been stylized and perfected to machine like precision.