Oriental carpets are carpets (also known as rugs) that are produced in the Orient. Geographically, oriental rugs are made in an area referred to as the “Rug Belt”, which stretches from Morocco across North Africa, the Middle East, and into Central Asia and northern India. It includes countries like China, Tibet, Turkey, Iran, the Maghreb in the west, the Caucasus in the north, and India and Pakistan in the south.

The carpets originating in Iran are called Persian carpets or Persian rugs. Within the group of Oriental rugs produced by the countries of the so-called “rug belt”, the Persian carpet stands out by the variety and elaborateness of its manifold designs.

An Iranian/Persian carpet exhibition in city of Hamadan in 2015.
An Iranian/Persian carpet exhibition in city of Hamadan in 2015 | Tasnim News Agency

A Persian carpet is a heavy textile made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes for home use, local sale, and export. In the West, they are most often used for covering the floor.

Persian carpets and rugs of various types were woven in parallel by nomadic tribes, in village and town workshops, and by royal court manufactories alike. As such, they represent different, simultaneous lines of tradition, and reflect the history of Iran and its various peoples.

The carpets woven in the Safavid court manufactories of Isfahan during the sixteenth century are famous for their elaborate colours and artistical design, and are treasured in museums and private collections all over the world today.

Carpets woven in towns and regional centers like Tabriz, Kerman, Mashhad, Kashan, Isfahan, Nain and Qom are characterized by their specific weaving techniques and use of high-quality materials, colours and patterns.

Rugs woven by the villages and various tribes of Iran are distinguished by their fine wool, bright and elaborate colours, and specific, traditional patterns. Nomadic and small village weavers often produce rugs with bolder and sometimes more coarse designs, which are considered as the most authentic and traditional rugs of Persia, as opposed to the artistic, pre-planned designs of the larger workplaces. Gabbeh rugs are the best-known type of carpet from this line of tradition.


Ardabil Carpet at the Victoria & Albert Museum
Ardabil Carpet at the Victoria & Albert Museum

In the 1970s and 1980s, a new interest arose in Europe in Gabbeh rugs, which were initially woven by nomadic tribes for their own use. Their coarse weaving and simple, abstract designs appealed to Western customers.

In 1992, the first Grand Persian Conference and Exhibition in Tehran presented for the first time modern Persian carpet designs. Persian master weavers like Razam Arabzadeh displayed carpets woven in the traditional technique, but with unusual, modern designs.

Iranian carpets have come under fierce competition from other countries producing fakes of the original Persian designs as well as genuine cheaper substitutes. Another threat to the industry are machine-made products. These rugs provide “oriental” designs, but little artistic value and less investment value.

Authentic Persian rugs is a time-consuming process which, depending on the quality and size of the rug, may take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete. The process has not changed much since ancient times. So, these carpets are usually sold at higher prices, rendering the Persian carpet an object of luxury, beauty, and art – an ancient status symbol. They are the gold standard for Oriental rugs.

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In 2008, Christie’s New York sold a silk Isfahan rug (circa-1600) for $4.45 million. It had been estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

In 2009, Sotheby’s London sold a Safavid silk, wool, and metal-thread prayer rug for $4.3 million. It had been estimated at $127,368 to $191,052.

In 2013, the Corcoran Gallery of Art sold a central-Persian Isfahan carpet (circa 1650-1699) for $4.65 million. It had been estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

In 2013, Sotheby’s New York sold a 17th-century Kerman carpet for $33.74 million to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

Not all carpets are being sold in the millions at the above auction houses. Sotheby’s sold a Northwest Persian carpet for $43,000 and an Indo-Persian carpet for $53,125.

A fine Persian rug is like a Rembrandt masterpiece. Its detail is intricate. Its look is old world. And very few people know about it today. Though its popularity has declined in favor of modern, minimal, and rustic designs, you can see with the selling figures above, authentic Persian rugs still have re-sale value. The key is to make sure you buy one that is authentic. The easiest way to ensure this is to buy an antique Persian rug (over 100 years old) from a reputable seller. The next best way is to buy a Persian rug from a reputable auction house like Sotheby’s and Christie’s or a reputable Persian rug dealer. You can also hire a Persian rug expert to join you on your next purchasing trip.

A Persian rug is an investment. It is old world art you can walk on.