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Rug History

An authentic oriental rug is a handmade carpet that is either knotted with pile or woven without pile. These rugs normally come from a broad geographical region extending from China and Vietnam in the east to Turkey, Maghreb countries, Cyprus and Iran in the west and the Caucasus in the north to India in the south. People from different cultures, countries, racial groups and religious faiths are involved in the production of oriental rugs. Oriental rugs are organized by origin: Persian rugs, Arab rugs, Anatolian rugs, Kurdish rugs, Caucasian rugs, Central Asian rugs, Turkestanian rugs, Chinese rugs, Tibetan rugs and Indian rugs.

Early Carpets

The Pazyryk Carpet, among the oldest surviving carpets in the world.The hand-knotted pile carpet probably originated in southern Central Asia between the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, although there is evidence of goats and sheep being sheared for wool and hair which was spun and woven as far back at 6000 BCE.

The earliest surviving pile carpet in the world is called the “Pazyryk Carpet”, dating from the 5th-4th century BCE. It was excavated by Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in 1949 from a Pazyryk burial mound where it had been preserved in ice in the valley of Pazyryk. The origin of this carpet is attributed to either the Scythians or the Persian Achaemenids. This richly colored carpet is 200 x 183 cm (6’6″ x 6’0″) and framed by a border of griffins.

Persian Carpets

The Persian carpet is a part of Persian (Iranian) art and culture. Carpet-weaving in Persia dates back to the Bronze Age.

The earliest surviving corpuses of Persian carpets come from the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736) in the 16th century. However, painted depictions prove a longer history of production. There is much variety among classical Persian carpets of the 16th and 17th century. Common motifs include scrolling vine networks, arabesques, palmettes, cloud bands, medallions, and overlapping geometric compartments rather than animals and humans.

The designs of Iranian carpets are copied by weavers from other countries as well. Iran is also the world’s largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets, producing three quarters of the world’s total output. Though in recent times, this ancient tradition has come under stiff competition from machine-made products. Iran is also the maker of the largest handmade carpet in history, measuring 60,546 square feet (5,624.9 square meters).

Persian carpets can be divided into three groups; Farsh / ‘Qālii’ (sized anything greater than 6×4 feet), Qālicheh (meaning rug, sized 6×4 feet and smaller), and nomadic carpets known as  Kilim, ( meaning rough carpet).

Turkish Carpets

Carpets whether knotted or flat woven (kilim) are among the best known art forms produced by the Turks. They have protected themselves from the extremes of the cold weather by covering the floors, and sometimes walls and doorways, with carpets. These are handmade, of wool or sometimes cotton, with occasional additions of silk. Even technological advances which enable factory-made carpets has not stopped the production of rug weaving at cottage-industry level. Although synthetic dyes have been in use for the last 150 years, handmade carpets are still considered far superior to industrial carpeting.

Turkish carpets in the 15th and 16th centuries are best known through European paintings. For example, in the works of Lotto (15th century Italian painter) and Holbein (16th century German painter), Turkish carpets are seen under the feet of the Virgin Mary, or in secular paintings, on tables. In the 17th century, when the Netherlands became a powerful mercantile country, Turkish carpets graced many Dutch homes. The Dutch painter Vermeer represented Turkish carpets predominantly to indicate the high economic and social status of the persons in his paintings. Turkey carpets, as they were known, were too valuable to be put on floors, except under the feet of the Holy Mother and royalty.

The Turkish carpets have exuberant colors, motifs, and patterns. Because traditionally women have woven the carpets, this is one art form that is rarely appreciated as being the work of a known or a specific artist.

Chinese Carpets

As opposed to most antique rug manufacture practices, Chinese carpets were woven almost exclusively for internal consumption. China has a long history of exporting traditional goods; however, it was not until the first half of the 19th century that the Chinese began to export their rugs. Once in contact with western influences, there was a large change in production: Chinese manufacturers began to produce art-deco rugs with commercial look and price point.

The centuries old Chinese textile industry is rich in history. While most antique carpets are classified according to a specific region or manufacture, scholars attribute the age of any specific Chinese rug to the ruling emperor of the time. The earliest surviving examples of the craft were produced during the time of Ch’ung Chen, the last emperor of the Chen Dynasty.

Indian Carpets

Mughals during the invasion of India brought the art of carpet weaving to India. Akbar is accredited to introducing the art of carpet weaving to India in 1500 A.D. during his reign. The region’s hot climate could never have required the warmth of carpets. Only in the 16th century, the Mughal emperors patronized Persian carpets for their royal courts and palaces. During this period, he brought Persian craftsmen from their homeland and established them here. Initially, the carpets woven showed the classic Persian style of fine knotting. Gradually it blended with the Mughal as well as Indian art. Thus the carpets produced became typical of the Indian origin and gradually the industry began to diversify and spread all over the subcontinent.

Indian carpets are known for their high density of knotting. Hand Knotted Carpets are a specialty and widely in demand in the West. The Carpet Industry in India has been successful in establishing social business models directly helping in the enlistment of the underprivileged sections of the society. Two notable examples of such social entrepreneurship ventures are Jaipur rugs and Fabindia.

Afghan Rugs

Afghan rugs  are handwoven floor-covering textiles traditionally made in Afghanistan. Many of the Afghan rugs are also woven by Afghan refugees who reside in Pakistan and Iran.In any case, Afghan rugs are genuine, often charming — and usually phenomenally inexpensive. One of the most exotic and distinctive of all oriental rugs is the Shindand or Adraskan (named after local Afghan villages), woven in the Herat area, in western Afghanistan. Strangely elongated human and animal figures are their signature look.

Most of the weavers in Afghanistan are the Ersari Turkmen, but other smaller groups such as Chub Bash and Kizil Ayaks are also in the line of weaving rugs. In addition, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and Arabs label their rugs according to their ethnic groups.

Various vegetable and other natural dyes are used to produce the rich colors. The rugs are mostly of medium sizes. Many patterns and colors are used, but the traditional and most typical is that of the octagonal elephant’s foot (Bukhara) pr

Pakistani Rugs

The art of weaving developed in the region comprising Pakistan at a time when few other civilizations employed it. Excavations at Moenjodaro and Harappa – ancient cities of the Indus Valley civilization – have established that the inhabitants used spindles and spun a wide variety of weaving materials. Some historians consider that the Indus Valley civilization first developed the use of woven textiles.

Carpet weaving may have been introduced into the area of present-day Pakistan as far back as the eleventh century with the coming of the first Muslim conquerors, the Ghaznavids and the Ghauris, from the West. It can with more certainty be traced to the beginning of the Mughal Dynasty in the early sixteenth century, when the last successor of Timur, Babar, extended his rule from Kabul to India to found the Mughal Empire. Under the patronage of the Mughals, Indian craftsmen adopted Persian techniques and designs. Carpets woven in the Punjab at that time (often called Lahore carpets today) made use of motifs and decorative styles found in Mughal architecture.

During the Mughal period, the carpets made on the Indian subcontinent became so famous that demand for them spread abroad. These carpets had distinctive designs and boasted a high density of knots. Carpets made for the Mughal emperors, including Jahangir and Shah Jahan, were of the finest quality. Under Shah Jahan’s reign, Mughal carpet weaving took on a new aesthetic and entered its classical phase

Turkmen (Bukhara) Carpets

Turkmen rug (or Turkmen carpet) is a type of hand-made floor-covering textile traditionally originating in Central Asia (especially in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan). Such rugs are now mainly produced in, and sold from, Pakistan and Iran. The intricate designs of these rugs derive mainly from various Turkmen tribes, such as the Yomut, Ersari, Saryk, Salor, and Tekke. Various vegetable and other natural dyes are used to produce the rich colors. Many patterns and colors are used, but the traditional and most typical is that of the octagonal elephant’s foot (Bukhara) print, often with a red or tan background (picture).

Azerbaijani Rugs

Azerbaijani rugs are a product of Azerbaijan, an ancient center of carpet weaving. In November 2010 the Azerbaijani carpet was proclaimed a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.

The archeological dig on the territory of Azerbaijan testifies to the well developed agriculture, stock raising, metal working, pottery and ceramics, and last but not least carpet-weaving that date as far back as to the 2nd millennium BC.

The most ancient carpet ever discovered is the famous Pazyryk carpet of the 6th-5th century BC which was found during the excavations in the Altai Mountains. The results of the archeological digging in Azerbaijan validate the antiquity of the carpet weaving traditions on this land. The Gultapin excavations discovered carpet weaving tools which date back to the 4th-3rd millennium BC. For many centuries during the historical existence of our nation both settled and nomadic ways of life were of importance. A carpet per se is democratic; however its real folk character is about something else. A carpet was meant to unite people, to cultivate the sense of collectivism, mutual aid, and friendly cohesion. An Azerbaijani carpet, which embodies numerous and various functions, is in fact something more than just a combination of these purposes. An Azerbaijani carpet is not only one of the most important elements in the national way of life, not only a variety of the arts and crafts, but also a key link to the ethical and moral principles and customs of the people’s existence.

The carpet making was born in rural huts and with time ranked among the most essential arts. It was highly valued by the heads of states, and the gifted weavers were glorified by the greatest poets.

Caucasian Rugs

Caucasian rugs are primarily produced as village productions rather than city pieces. Made from materials particular to individual tribal provinces, the rugs of the Caucasus normally display bold geometric designs in primary colors. Styles typical to the Caucasus region are Daghestan, Shirvan, Kazak and Quba rugs.

Tibetan Rugs

Tibetan rug making is an ancient, traditional craft. Tibetan rugs are traditionally made from Tibetan highland sheep’s wool, called changpel. Tibetans use rugs for many purposes ranging from flooring to wall hanging to horse saddles, though the most common use is as a seating carpet. A typical sleeping carpet measuring around 3ftx5ft (0.9m x 1.6m) is called a khaden.

The knotting method used in Tibetan rug making is different from that used in other rug making traditions worldwide. Some aspects of the rug making have been supplanted by cheaper machines in recent times, especially yarn spinning and trimming of the pile after weaving. However, some carpets are still made by hand. The Tibetan Diaspora in India and Nepal have established a thriving business in rug making. In Nepal the rug business is one of the largest industries in the country and there are many rug exporters. Tibet also has weaving workshops, but the export side of the industry is relatively undeveloped compared with Nepal and India.