Tami Khramtchenko of Travel The Unknown discovers the wonders of Persian carpets in Shiraz.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Iran this past October with one of our group tours, covering the main sights from Shiraz and Tehran over a period of 7 days. In Shiraz, our guide took the group to a carpet shop. The owner was kind enough to serve us Persian tea and give an thorough briefing on Persian carpets.
For someone who has never thought about carpets at length (except for why Russians hang them on walls), this was very interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I recorded the entire talk and decided to turn it into a blog post. Please excuse any misspellings of Iranian names or words, as it was a bit tough to catch them all. Thanks to Saeid from Iran Carpet House and a little of my own light research:
Persian carpets are true works of art and are the best quality rugs in the world for three reasons – the number of knots, pattern intricacy and the use of 100% natural colours. There are also two main types of carpets, those made by nomads and those by city artists.
The number of knots in city carpets is very important. The more knots per square centimeter, the more expensive and durable the carpet. Nomads don’t typically care about the number of knots when they weave for themselves. Yet to compete with city artisans, carpets should have the maximum number of knots possible – 144 knots per square centimeter.
City carpets feature classic patterns, most commonly with floral and botanical motifs. Their precision and symmetry are meant to represent the perfect order of the universe.
Nomadic weavers typically invent carpet patterns out of their imagination. They are bold, spontaneous and are frequently inspired by landscapes and the nature. The Cypress tree is often featured because it is the symbol of long life. That is why in nomadic camps you will see that nearly all tents have a similar carpet hung by the entrance.
There are lots of geometric patterns incorporated, such as in this prayer rug from Sistal in Baluchistan. It is made from 100% wool from the neck of a baby sheep – the finest wool in Iran. As you can see (from the image below), there are places for the hands, head and body, and the carpet is positioned in the direction of Mecca at prayer time.
Some carpets are double-sided, meaning that each side has an intentionally different pattern. This carpet, for example, is a real museum piece. It took two people eight years of work sitting face-to-face with a loom between them. They weave each using their own imagination, independent of the other’s design.
These are the most common carpet colours and where the colours come from:
Light brown – henna
Dark brown – walnut shells
Red – pomegranates
Light blue – turquoise stones
Dark blue – indigo
Yellow/gold – saffron
80% of nomadic carpets are made from pure wool and only 20% of silk and wool, or silk alone. Lamb’s wool is often used to give carpets a light sheen and reflective quality.
There are two kinds of silk in use. Silk from China with artificial colours that fade after washing and silk from the Caspian Sea that is of the highest quality.
Depending on the intricacy of the pattern, carpets can take from two year to a decade of work. Now, this isn’t full-time work, as most weavers work about an hour in the morning and another in the evening. Weavers need to have good eyes and strong fingers.
City carpets have a separate designer and weaver, and are always signed by the designer. In contrast, nomadic carpets are rarely signed. This is because they are most commonly woven by women, but they are not allowed by their husbands to sign their work, like an artist normally would.
This might be redundant to say, but this carpet shop had so many carpets!
They even had carpet mouse pads.
Touching the different types of carpets at the end of the visit, it felt remarkable that this ancient form of art has survived through generations and is still among us today. Even a casual carpet enthusiast can admire the fine details of an authentic Persian rug – and then step on it!
Even months later, this experience stands out as a definite highlight of my trip.
If you haven’t yet been to Iran, I highly recommend it.