An Introduction to Oriental Rugs

The magic and mystery of the Orient, its ancient history and art, its culture and religions, are all embodied in one simple, beautiful household item - the Oriental rug.

The traditional art of oriental rug weaving can be dated fairly accurately, as far back as the 5th Century BC, to a rug, in almost perfect condition, which was found in the burial mound of a Scythian chieftain in the Pazyryk valley in Siberia during 1947. Preserved in ice, the rug was woven by hand over 2,500 years ago and, today it can be seen in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The history of rug weaving began with nomadic tribes building temporary looms and using wool from their wandering flocks of sheep. These rugs usually depicted nature as seen by the weavers with flowers, animals and trees, or illustrated their culture and religious beliefs with symbols and motifs.

Early rugs had many functions: they were hung from the walls of tents or huts as decoration; they were laid on the ground or floor and they were used as seat covers and saddle bags to sleep, live or pray on.

The first known oriental rugs came from Persia, Turkey and Egypt, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Marco Polo discovered some of the earliest oriental rugs during his 13th century travels through Persia. Before then, good examples were scarce, mainly due to the perishable nature and the fact that the rugs were made to be used. Great care was taken of rugs and they were greatly cherished and valued by those who owned them. At one time, rugs were regarded as better than money and there are stories of them being used to pay taxes! Cleopatra, the great Egyptian Queen, presented herself to Caesar olled up inside a carpet.

An entirely different style and design of rug emerged from China and Tibet often featuring symbols of their Buddhist and Taoist religions. And, finally India learned the art from the Persian weavers, developing a style to suit the tastes of their Mogul emperors.

Rugs varied in size, quality and design - some were woven flat, some were hand knotted, but each had its own individual characteristics often accurately pinpointing its origins. Nomadic tribes wove smaller rugs than the more settled weavers who were able to work to commercial specifications. Often taking weeks, months or even years to weave, these rugs are regarded as some of the very highest forms of art.

One of the finest rugs in the world, which can be accurately identified and dated, was found in a mosque in Ardebil, Persia. Discovered in 1947, it is woven with a blend of wool and silk, and at 37' x 17', is one of the largest carpets of its type. It carries the date of the Islamic year AH 947 (equivalent to AD 1540) and was made on the orders of Shah Tahmasp by a weaver named Maksud al Kashani to be used in the Shayka Safi Shrine in Ardebil. The weaver inscribed these details in a cartouche at one end of the carpet which can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

This traditional art of rug weaving continues today, using almost exactly the same methods as 2,000 years ago. Many of the old patterns are repeated today, having been handed down from generation to generation. Others are created reflecting the events of the times, such as the Afghan war rugs showing tanks, bombs and missiles.

Antique oriental rugs are included in the world's great art collections. They are bought by connoisseurs as fine works of art, and as such are sound financial investments. Whilst still being woven for household purposes in the countries of their origin, these beautiful handmade oriental rugs are now greatly sought after by Western buyers.

The diversity and styles of oriental rugs available today may seem overwhelming so a good basic knowledge of the subject is needed when making a choice.

Original article courtesy: the Carpet Information Centre