The History of Rugs
Rugs are items that are used in the house to generally cover the floor. It has emerged as a result of people’s search for a comfortable/warm floor, which is made by knotting the yarns at the desired pile height according to the pattern after the wefts are thrown (back yarns). It can also be seen on the wall in some houses, again to keep the warmth inside. Moreover, it has an important place in home decoration. This vital piece in history dates back to ancient times and is as old as human history.
People first used animal hides to create a warm floor. As their needs increased, they produced other materials imitating posts, as they could not find a suitable post for their needs. Over time, they made patterned versions as they liked and reached the draft samples of today's carpet. So, it became one of the first products of the struggle of human beings against nature and to adapt nature to itself. Since it has a crucial place in human history, everyone, whether they use rugs at their home or just admire how they are seen at their neighbors' houses, wonders where these rugs come from.
Historians have found evidence of animals such as goats and sheep slaughtered for hair and wool that could be bent and woven 9000 years ago. In their simplest form, carpets and kilims are thought to have developed in western Asia 4,000-5,000 years ago. Over 5,000 years ago, nomadic tribes hand-woven rugs out of camel, sheep, and goat hair. Furthermore, archeologists have uncovered rugs in Egyptian and Mesopotamian tombs dating back more than 4,000 years. In some sources, it has been demonstrated that the first carpets known in the world were woven by the Turks in Central Asia.
The Pazyryk Carpet
Despite this information, the oldest surviving example of these carpets dates back to 6-5 BC, from Armenia or Persia. Its name is the Pazyryk Carpet, which was discovered in 1949 in Siberia. Even though it is very old, the carpet has a highly advanced technique and intricate patterns full of different color fibers. It is still kept in the Leningrad Museum. It was exceptionally well-preserved since it was found in a deeply frozen block of ice.
The Pazyryk Carpet is also known as the “Gorny-Altaic” rug. The 183cm x 200cm carpet has a knot density of approximately 360.000 knots per m2. This ancient, historical piece has a higher knot density than most carpets seen in stores today. Its pattern is fascinating; there is a strip motif in the middle of the carpet; there are deer on the sides of it, and the outermost part shows warrior patterns on horses.
Due to its design and technical intricacy, some historians think that the Pazyryk Carpet is a product of ancient nomadic carpets. Since equestrian frieze and floral patterns were featured in ancient Persian art and the reliefs from the ancient city of Persepolis are very similar to the patterns on this carpet, many historians think it is from Persia.
However, the wool and dyes on this specific carpet make us think it can be from another part of the world. Usually, the wool and dyes are decisive for the origin of the carpet. The wool is identical to the wool of sheepskin hides found in other burials at the Pazyryk area, which is local. The red dye on the carpet is from lacquer or kermesic acid, which is obtained from insects. The particular type of lacquer used in this carpet originates from the Baltic region or Poland.
According to historians, the dye was more readily available to the Eurasian nomads on geography stretching from Eastern Europe to the High Altai than to the ancient Persians in the south. Therefore, although the design of the Pazyryk carpet reflects the cosmopolitan influences of distant regions, such as the Persian influence, it is more likely that it was woven locally by the nomadic peoples who lived in its geography. Hence, it is considered by many experts that the carpet is Caucasian, specifically Armenian, origin. It has the Armenian double knot, and the red filaments' color, which was mentioned earlier, is believed to be made from Armenian cochineal. Moreover, it has also been demonstrated that the Armenian delegation's relief is the same as the horse design on the carpet. The historian Herodotus writing in the 5th century BC, also gives us information about the people in the Caucasus area made rugs with shiny colors which would last very long. Hence, historians demonstrated that although the Pazyryk Carpet and its culture were not of Persian production, there was a relation with its motifs.
The Persian Tradition
Persian traditional classical carpet production began in the 15th century. These carpets do have miniature paintings and primarily geometric patterns. However, the carpets produced during the Safavid period were extremely skillfully crafted with elegant, elaborate curved geometric patterns or floral designs. The Safavid carpets influenced the entire Islamic world, and in the following centuries showed their influence on carpet weaving in wide geography, including Anatolia, India, and Mongolia.
To be more precise, the workshops established with the help of the Royals of the Safavid Empire, carpet weaving reached highly professional levels in both production and craftsmanship between 1501 and 1736. In addition, the best weavers trained valuable craftsmen through master-apprentice relationships on the best weaving looms of the period. This period was also referred to as “the Golden Age” of carpet weaving. The Persian Safavid dynasty was a country where the most beautiful carpets the world had ever seen were produced.
Today, Persian rugs, made in the 16th- and 17th-century, are exhibited at auctions where the rarest, well-preserved pieces sell for record prices and items that captivate visitors in museums visited by millions of visitors. Moreover, Oriental carpets produced in Iran between the 16th and 17th-century, are now exhibited in many European museums and collectors' exhibitions. Unfortunately, very few of the Safavid carpets have survived due to the fact that the threads used in weaving are not durable against time. Also, since they are mainly used to cover the floor, they wear out faster than other historical pieces, such as oil paintings. Interestingly, most of the carpets in European museums were taken from the Middle East between 18th and 19th century, by the Wester imperialists, as many of cultural and historical artifacts in the Middle East were smuggled.