Carpets, Persian

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heavy woven floor coverings with traditional patterns; considered works of art today.

The twentieth century witnessed unparalleled expansion of Persian pile carpet weaving (qalibafi) in Iran. Gone were court manufactories and extensive weaving by nomadic tribal peoples. In their place came commercialization of the craft, the gradual introduction of quality controls and standards, and an unprecedented availability of a wide variety of Persian carpets of tribal, village, town, and city provenance for sale in the bazaars and abroad. Throughout the Iranian plateau, Persian carpets generally appear on the floor of all rooms except for the kitchen and bathroom. Often they constitute a room's main or only art, taking the place of a mural or large painting on the wall in Western homes.

Thus, Persian carpets achieved quite a high point in the twentieth century, although Persian pile carpet weaving is generally thought to have experienced its golden age with the curvilinear "city" designs of the Safavid period (15011736 c.e.) and with the rectilinear "tribal" carpets of the Qajar dynasty (17961925). Art historians, oriental carpet experts, and scholars generally think twentieth-century Persian carpets inferior because of their commercial production circumstances and less intricately designed patterns.

Early in the century, Isfahan and then Qom and other new production centers joined such famous traditional weaving centers as Kerman and Tabriz in producing carpets, almost all with traditional designs, but with synthetic dyes, mechanically spun yarn, and often the help of trained designers. Earlier Caucasus design traditions were continued in Ardabil and surrounding towns. Throughout Iran, classical medallion, garden, hunting, and prayer carpet designs continue to be produced, along with hybrid designs exhibiting the mutual influence of cartoon-prepared city patterns of the medallion sorts and the memory-produced repeat patterns typical of tribal weavingAfshar, Bakhtiari, Qashqaʾi, and Turkmen.

All the major twentieth-century Persian carpet design types appear to pay tribute in a decorative or symbolic way to springtime or paradise gardens, important culture-specific images in Persian art since Persepolis (begun in 518 b.c.e.); they feature columns, representing a sacred, or paradisial, grove of trees. The existence of the Pazyryk Carpet (at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg) is evidence that pile carpet weaving existed in Central Asia and on the Iranian plateau from at least the Achaemenid period (559330 b.c.e.), although few Persian carpets or even fragments have survived from before the sixteenth century c.e.

In the 1960s and after, Iranian scholars began paying attention to Persian carpets from technical, sociological, and cultural perspectives, which resulted in the shifting of predominant scholarship in this field from Europe to Iran. In particular, as nomadic and seminomadic communities have dwindled in size, Iranian scholars have provided records of their textile traditions, especially for Turkmen, Qashqaʾi, Shahsavan, and Kurdish carpets.

In the Islamic republican era, beginning in 1979, carpet production continued unabated, although the U.S. embargo on Iranian goods in the 1980s changed the export market for Persian carpets. The same decade also witnessed a dramatic increase in the production of flat-weave products called gelim (Turkish, kilim ) with their mostly un-complicated geometric patterns. The Carpet Museum of Iran, inaugurated in 1979, the last year of the Pahlavi dynasty (19251979), remained the world's best showcase for carpets in the 1990s.

see also bakhtiari; qajar dynasty; tribes and tribalism.


Edwards, A. C. The Persian Carpet: A Survey of the Carpet-Weaving Industry of Persia. London: Duckworth, 1953.

Ford, P. R. J. The Oriental Carpet: A History and Guide to Traditional Motifs, Patterns, and Symbols. New York: Abrams, 1981.

Hillmann, Michael C. Persian Carpets. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.

Michael C. Hillmann