All over the world there are a large variety of rug and carpet styles to choose from. The most popular, and also the most exquisite, fall under a category known as Oriental Rugs. This is a very broad term considering that Oriental rugs come from a large region of the world known as the “rug belt” which stretches from Northern Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia.
Since the late middle ages, oriental rugs have been of cultural importance to the oriental region of the world, Europe and, most recently, North America. Many people use them just as a rug is meant to be used, to keep the floor warm; however, many people also use them as artistic pieces, often times with symbolic meaning.
Oriental rugs are made from heavy textiles using a variety of fabrics including cotton, wool and silk. There are two different techniques for weaving these rugs, those being the pile weaving method and the flat woven method.
Due to the large geographical area that these rugs are produced in, there are some distinctions between the different regions that produce them. This article will examine 5 of the most popular oriental rugs with a brief description of each.
Persian rugs are the most popular type of rug in the world today. They have been around for thousands of years and have always been regarded as Luxurious rugs.
The first mention of persian carpets was around 400 B.C. in a book titled Anabasis written by Greek author Xenophon. This first mention already depicted them as luxurious carpets being worthy as a diplomatic gift.
There was very little mention of persian rugs again until around 600 A.D. during the advent of Islam and the Caliphates. During this time there was mention in several ancient books referring to carpets being used on the floor.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the Safavid period in 1501 that persian carpets became regarded as a fine art. One of the greatest periods in Persian art, which includes carpet weaving, was during this time. Even today Safavid carpets are known as the finest and most elaborate persian rugs around.
Persian rugs are produced in a region of the world formerly known as the Persian Empire which includes Iran and surrounding regions. They are made out of heavy textiles and are used for both symbolic and practical reasons. These rugs are produced by a method called pile weaving which requires weaving several layers together giving it a soft feel while still being resilient.
Egyptian Mamluk Rugs
Also known as Damascene carpets, Eqyptian Mamluk rugs are a distinctive rug that was first woven in Egypt during the Mamluk sultanate which was a period of time within the medieval times. The original people of the Mamluk Dynasty were slave soldiers captured from Turkic, Mongol and Circassian tribes and brought to Egypt. They quickly took power of Egypt and ruled for nearly 200 years creating a thriving carpet industry in Cairo.
These rugs are very distinct from other oriental rugs in terms of their weaving technique and the design. For example, the colours that they use is very limited to bright red, pale blue and light green. They also have a distinct design which incorporates polygonal shapes and floral patterns. Mamluk rugs were so sophisticated that they were actually regarded as fine pieces of art with spiritual meaning, rather than just high quality carpets.
By the 17th century when the Mamluk Dynasty came to an end, so did the production of these beautiful rugs.
Turkish rugs are produced mainly in Turkey and surrounding regions. The art of carpet weaving in this region dates back to pre-Islamic times and is still an important part of the Turkish culture.
The turkish style rugs that we see today can be dated back to sometime in the 13th century when Mongols invaded Anatolia. During this time, the Seljuq rule that preceded the Mongol invasion was quickly weakening. As a result Turkmen tribes, known as Oghuz Turks, began to organize themselves into independent sovereignties which would later become part of the Ottoman Empire.
These Turkmen tribes were known to produce carpets but no one knows if they were the Turkish style rugs that we know of today. The oldest Turkish rugs discovered date back to the 13th century indicating that the Turkmen tribes eventually began weaving these unique rugs soon after they gained their sovereignty.
The technique used and style that they chose is unique from other Oriental rugs. for example, Turkish rugs are woven with the knotted pile method by using Giordes knots, also known as Turkish knots. This is the same technique that was used in the oldest pile woven carpet ever found, the Pazyryk carpet.
They can also be distinguished by several features such as their colours, textures, designs and weaving style. One of the most distinct features of a Turkish rug is their heavy use of primary colours.
Turkmen tribes also influenced another type of oriental rug found in central Asia known as the Turkmen rug. These rugs served many purposes such as making bags, door coverings and of course to lay on the floor of a tent.
Turkmen rugs are typically made of high quality wool with cotton, sheeps wool or goat hair used as the foundation. The main colour used in most Turkmen rugs is a shade of red known as madder red. All Turkmen rugs also have many small medallion shaped polygonal patterns known as gul’s which are woven into the rug using a wide variety of colours.
The weaving technique is also very unique. Knots used in Turkmen rugs are both symmetrical and asymmetrical creating a very dense and durable carpet.
Indian and Pakistani rugs
Since the Mughal empire in the 16th century, carpet weaving has been a very common tradition in India and Pakistan. Rugs made of wool are definitely not a necessity in a region as hot as India so the hypothesis is that the tradition of rug weaving was introduced to India by migrants from central and western Asia.
Most of the rugs from the Mughal period have a very unique design being covered in floral patterns on a red background. This was the general style that lasted until the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the 19th century.
When the Mughal Empire fell to British rule in the 19th century, the tradition of carpet weaving also declined drastically. As a result, Britain decided to set up factories to produce carpets for export, mostly in jails.
India and Pakistan are still large producers of carpets today but they lost their symbolic value and are mostly exported as low cost practical carpets, not beautiful art pieces which they once were.