Oriental rugs are one of the most popular types of rugs in the world. They are known for their rich colors, intricate patterns, and high quality. But what exactly are oriental rugs?
Oriental rugs are heavy textiles made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes. They are produced in "Oriental countries" for home use, local sale, and export.
Oriental carpets can be pile woven or flat woven without pile, using various materials such as silk, wool, cotton, jute, and animal hair.
Geographically, oriental rugs are made in an area referred to as the "Rug Belt," which stretches from Morocco across North Africa, the Middle East, and into Central Asia and northern India. It includes countries such as northern China, Tibet, Turkey, Iran, the Maghreb in the west, the Caucasus in the north, and India and Pakistan in the south.
The History of Oriental Rugs
Oriental rugs have a long and rich history that dates back to thousands of years ago. The earliest evidence of oriental rugs comes from ancient Persia (now Iran), where they were used as floor coverings, wall hangings, and ceremonial objects. Oriental rugs were also traded along the Silk Road, a network of routes that connected Asia with Europe and Africa. Oriental rugs were highly valued by royalty, nobility, and wealthy merchants who appreciated their craftsmanship and beauty. The art of making oriental rugs reached its peak during the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) in Iran, when master weavers created exquisite carpets with complex designs and vibrant colors. Some of the most famous oriental rugs from this period include the Ardabil Carpet, the Coronation Carpet, and the Hunting Carpet. These carpets are now displayed in museums around the world as examples of fine art. The influence of oriental rugs spread to other countries in Asia, such as Turkey, India, China, and Afghanistan, where local weavers adapted their own styles and techniques to create unique rugs. For example, Turkish rugs are known for their geometric patterns and bold colors; Indian rugs are known for their floral motifs and fine details; Chinese rugs are known for their symbolic designs and soft colors; and Afghan rugs are known for their tribal patterns and rustic charm. Oriental rugs have also inspired many artists and designers in the West, such as William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. Oriental rugs have become a symbol of culture, art, and luxury in many homes around the world.
Types of Oriental Rugs by Region
Oriental rugs, which can be classified by their region of origin, represent different strands of tradition. These regions include Persian rugs, Pakistani rugs, Arabian rugs, Anatolian rugs, Kurdish rugs, Caucasian rugs, Moroccan rugs, Turkestanian (Turkmen, Turkoman) rugs, Chinese rugs, Tibetan rugs, and Indian rugs.
Persian rugs are the most famous and diverse type of oriental rugs. The Persian carpet or rug is an integral and distinguished part of Persian culture and art, with origins dating back to ancient Persia. Persian carpets are categorized based on the social settings in which they were woven (nomads, villages, towns), the ethnic groups responsible for their creation (e.g., Kurds, tribes like Khamseh, Azerbaijani, Turkmens), or the regions where they are woven, such as Hamadan, Senneh, Bidjar, Sarouk, Kashan, and Qom.
Read more about Persian Rug Types
Turkish carpets are mainly produced in Anatolia, including neighboring areas. Carpet weaving is an ancient art in Anatolia that integrates different cultural traditions, reflecting the history of the Turkish people. Distinct types of carpets have been woven in workshops, provincial weaving facilities, as well as villages, tribal settlements, or by nomads.
The Turkish carpet stands out from carpets of other origins due to its pronounced use of primary colors. Moreover, Turkish carpets feature bold geometric designs and highly stylized floral patterns, generally arranged in a rectilinear design.
They come from various regions in Turkey, each with its own distinctive style. Some of the most popular Turkish rug styles include Ushak , Hereke , Kayseri (or Kayseri), Bergama, Konya , Milas .
Egyptian Mamluk Rugs
During the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, a distinctive carpet was produced in Egypt, which came to be known as "Damascene" carpets in previous centuries. It is now well-established that the center of production for these carpets was Cairo. After the Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt in 1517, two different cultures merged, resulting in a unique style observed in the Mamluk carpets woven during and after this period.
During the Safavid Empire of Persia, the northern territories comprised Karabagh, Moghan, Shirvan, Daghestan, and Georgia. Eventually, through the Treaty of Constantinople in 1724 and the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, these provinces were ceded to Russia. Russian rule was further extended to include Baku, Genje, the Derbent khanate, and the Talish region.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shah Abbas I of Persia established carpet manufactories in Shirvan and Karabagh. The carpet weavers in the Caucasus region adopted Safavid field divisions and floral motifs but modified their style according to their ancient traditions. Characteristic motifs include stylized Chinese dragons in the so-called "Dragon carpets," combat scenes depicting tigers and stags, or floral patterns. The style is highly abstract to the extent that animal forms become unrecognizable. Among the most popular groups of Caucasian rugs are the "Kazak" carpets.
The Turkmen tribes inhabited the areas towards the borders of modern-day Iran and Afghanistan, where they produced rugs and smaller items. They were less amenable to assimilation than their neighbors, allowing them to preserve much of their traditional culture. The history of the Turkmen tribes is characterized by migrations, alliances, intertribal warfare, and even the violent extinction of regional populations. Having knowledge of both the history of a Turkmen tribe and its migrations, as well as the characteristics of their structure and design, often enables the attribution of a rug or pile-woven household item to a certain tribe and a certain period in its history.
The predominant color in nearly all Turkmen rugs is madder red, which was obtained locally and allows for dyeing in various shades.
With the advent of commercialization, carpets were produced for export in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Known under the trade name of "Bokhara rugs," they display designs inspired by Turkmen carpets, but the colors and the quality of design did not match the original.
Indian and Pakistani rugs
India and Pakistan, two countries that separated in 1947 during the Partition of India, have a rich history of rug weaving. Rug weaving has been known in India since at least the sixteenth century, with the original models likely being Persian, as their designs appear closely related. Other influences from central Asia also played a role, but India soon developed its own distinctive style. These rugs are sometimes labeled as "Indo-Persian" due to their similarities with Persian carpet designs.
With the decline of the Mughal Empire by the late nineteenth century, carpet weaving in India had also declined to such an extent that the British colonial administration decided to establish factories, sometimes even in jails, to produce carpets for export. Even after their separation and independence, both India and Pakistan continue to engage in carpet weaving. Nowadays, carpet production in India and Pakistan frequently involves the use of foreign designs or design copies, resulting in the production of commercial rugs primarily valued for their utilitarian purposes.
Moroccan Rugs have a rich history that dates back to ancient times. The Berber people, who are the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa, were the first to create these rugs. They used natural materials such as wool, camel hair, and silk to make rugs that were not only practical but also beautiful.
The Berber people are known for their strong connection to nature, their nomadic lifestyle, and their deep sense of community. They believe that everything in nature has a spirit, and that their rugs are imbued with the spirits of the animals, plants, and landscapes from which they are made. For them, rugs are not just objects of beauty, but also sources of protection, warmth, and comfort.
Afghan rugs are a type of handwoven floor-covering textile that are traditionally made in the northern and western areas of Afghanistan, mainly by Afghan Turkmens and Uzbeks. They are known for their quality, durability, and distinctive designs and patterns. Some of the common motifs include elephants, octagons, flowers, and military equipment. Afghan rugs are usually made with natural dyes and Persian knots.
In this article, we have learned about the different types of oriental rugs that are produced in various regions of Asia, such as Persia, Turkey, China, India, and Afghanistan. We have explored the characteristics, styles, and influences of each type of oriental rug, and how they reflect the culture and history of their makers. Oriental rugs are not only beautiful and durable floor-coverings, but also valuable pieces of art that can enhance any home decor with their unique charm and elegance. They also represent the diversity and richness of the oriental world, and the creativity and skill of the oriental weavers. Oriental rugs are more than just carpets; they are expressions of identity, heritage, and tradition. Hope you enjoyed!