From RUGS to Riches

Antique Persian Medallion Heriz Rug - photo by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Rugs are a thing of beauty, especially nicely coloured and patterned rugs. They can be used as pieces of furniture/artwork; used as ornamental, and sometimes purely antiques. However, in past times, they were much more than ornamental pieces as they are to people in the western regions. They were quite functional to the people of the Asian regions.

Rugs have become antiques, dating back to centuries ago; they are valued for their intricacies. Older pieces can still be found in museums today.


Oldest piled carpet in the world, 5th c BCE Discovered in Pazyryk, Altai mountains of Siberia – photo by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Rugs are believed to have originated from Siberia in the 5th century BC when a piece was found in a tomb in Siberia. It was said that rugs were used to lay the tomb of Cyrus the Great who conquered the city of Babylon in the 5th century BC, as he played a vital role in promoting the making of rugs in that city because he had a passion for them.

These rugs were known with the nomads of Southern Asia more than 2,000 years ago who used the rugs to keep warm during the harsh winters, and to cover their floors and decorate their tents; they mostly got their material from the wool from their herds.

In the 13th and the 14th centuries, rugs were rediscovered (after centuries of going out of fashion) and preserved as artefacts, after which they were being largely produced in Persia, Turkey, China, India, and some other parts of Asia.

Savonnerie Fragment Rug – photo by Doris Leslie Blau

You first had rugs in Eastern Europe from the 16th and the 17th Centuries. They were found mostly in palaces, and homes of the rich and elite. Later on, in the 18th century, European rugs trended above others. The 19th century came with another outburst of the Persian rug-trend so much so that Europeans towards the middle of the 19th century established rug-weaving factories in Persia. The production of these rugs in larger quantities led to the commercialization of rug production. The rugs were then mass produced and exported to the west. As a result, more contemporary designs were created that would be appreciated outside Asia more than the traditional Asian designs. More colours and patterns were introduced, the rugs were now machine knotted from these factories and distributed in Europe and beyond. Toward the end of the 19th century, rug making was so commercialized and made common that you could get highly sought after antique designs in city stores, although a few original designs and methods of rug making were yet preserved.

Types/ Categories of Rugs

There are basically three categories of rugs/carpets known as the:

Nomadic rugs – where every pattern is unique because there are no set patterns to be repeated. The nomads weaved as they are inspired at the time, and the designs may not turn out symmetrical, but in that is the originality of each piece. They made it for personal and family use.

Village rugs – simple, rural yet attractive designs, made from the wool from their herds, which makes their work not as smooth and symmetrical, but of good quality. It is usually smaller, knotted at the end to preserve the weaves, and made by women in their homes for home use, or for petty trade.

Workshop rugs – very symmetrical and meticulously yarned designs, following already drawn out patterns, unlike the ones the nomads spontaneously weave, creating their own designs as they weave. It is more organised and has machines that can roll out bigger pieces and knot more ends than the nomads may be able to. Here, people are hired to work in these rug production factories.

Persian Rugs

Antique Bakhshayesh Persian Rug – photo by Rugs & More

Persian rugs are oriental rugs and the most commonly known types of antique rugs. They are known for their largeness and thickness that makes them comfortable cushions and warm cover for nomads in winter. They are also known for their unique very colourful designs, exotic patterns hand-knotted locks.

Each pattern was most unique and not common at all. Owning a Persian rug was a thing of pride. Up until now, Iran still produces (Persian) rugs as their most practised craft and name them after their clan, tribe, village or town where they produced it.

Turkish Rugs

Turkish rugs, also known as Anatolian rugs or carpets are mainly antique rugs that date back to the 13th century, with Konya as the major production city.

The 16th century and the 17th century came with better quality Turkish rugs that could compete with the Persian rugs in quality.

These Turkish rugs were hand knotted in the knots called Ghiordes knots, Turkbaff, or Turkish Knots. The carpet designs were inspired by Greek designs that also dated back, and were known as major carpet producers.

Antique Turkish Oushak Rug – photo by Doris Leslie Blau

Situated in the west of Turkey, Oushak was soon one of the major producers of rugs in Turkey. The Oushak rug is characterised by beautiful and artistic designs, and out of all the Turkish rugs, it is the most influenced rugs by the Persian designs, with delicate floral and symmetrical designs of ornaments and scrolls, and not animals – tallying with their beliefs as Muslims. Because of its beauty and quality, it is usually more expensive than others, because a lot of handcraft is put into bringing out exquisite designs.

Because of the beauty of Oushak rugs, rather than being placed on floors as floor carpets, they were used as tablecloths or hung on walls as decorative pieces.

In Conclusion

Nomads initially made rugs just for their own use for comfort and for warmth, from the wool of their herds which was their source of material through the years and centuries.

Eventually, from the 15th century when designs changed, rug making became commercial, ways of production changed, and other sources of material for the rugs emerged than the traditional animal wool.