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An Introduction to Oriental Rugs

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

The traditional art of the oriental weaving can be accurately dated as far back as the 5th Century BC to a carpet in almost perfect condition dug out of the burial mound of a Scythian Chieftain in the Pazyryk valley in Siberia. Preserved in ice, this prized possession woven by hand over 2,500 years ago, was discovered in 1947 and can be seen today in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The history of weaving rugs starts with nomadic tribes building makeshift looms and using wool from their wandering flocks of sheep. These rugs were designed depicting nature as seen by the weavers, flowers, animals and trees, or illustrating their culture and religious beliefs with symbols and motifs. They were hung from the walls of tents or huts, they were laid on the ground or floor, they were used as seat covers or saddle bags - simply to sleep, live or to 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 fine orientals in the 13th century whilst travelling in Persia. Prior to that time good specimens were scarce due to the perishable nature of carpets and the fact that they were made to be used. Much care was taken of rugs and carpets and the fact that they were greatly cherished and valued by those who owned them. At one time they were regarded as better than money and even used for paying taxes! The great Egyptian Queen Cleopatra actually presented herself to Caesar - rolled up inside a carpet! Rugs of a entirely different style and design emerged from China and Tibet usually featuring symbols of their Buddhist and Taoist religions. 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 identifying characteristic 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 in Persia. It was discovered in 1947, is made of a blend of wool and silk, and at 37' x 17' is one of the largest carpets of its type. It carried the date of the Islamic year (AH 947) which is the equivalent to AD 1540. It was made by order of Shah Tahmasp by a weaver named Maksud al Kashani to be used in the Shayka Safi Shrine in Ardebil. The weaver inscribed this information within a cartouche at one end of the carpet which can be seen today at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

This traditional art of rug weaving is still carried on today, using almost exactly the same methods of over 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 and therefore a good basic knowledge of the subject is needed when making a choice. KAYAM presents this simple guide to the art and history of rug making to help the reader with this decision.

Advice to new purchasers