The rich Persian carpet-making history dates back to the 6th Century BC

Persian carpet weaving is believed to have begun over 2500 years ago in the Persian Empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great. Tellers of folk stories and historians believe that when his tomb was discovered it was strewn with many priceless rugs.

When trade routes from Europe to the Middle East opened up in the 1500s, and Persia (now Iran) began trading with the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese traders, Persian Rugs became popular floor and wall coverings with the European elite classes.

And so began the west’s obsession with Persian and oriental rugs from the east and seen as works of art and status symbols by connoisseur art collectors. The most beautiful Persian carpets became highly sought after as an investment—much like fine wines, artefacts and art by the masters—and not just a floor covering.

Persian carpet-making reached the pinnacle of its fame during the Safavid Dynasty from 1588 to 1629. The Safavid era rug pictured below was part of a collection offered by Sotheby’s in the Arts of the Islamic World & India fine rug and carpet sale in London in 2021.

Most of the 16th-century Safavid niche carpets that survive today are the results of royal gifts preserved unused in the Ottoman Royal Treasuries until the siege of Istanbul during the Turco-Russian wars three hundred years later.

Safavid Dynasty 16th Century Persian Rug
Rare 16th Century Safavid Dynasty Persian Rug

Persian carpets are a rich hallmark of Persian culture and a key source of income for what is now Iran

Generations of Iranians have meticulously handed down the rug-weaving art and skill from the heyday of the Persian Empire to their descendants. Today, several key cities in Iran, including Gorgan, Heris, Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman, Mashhad, Tabriz and Qom, are minor hubs of carpet manufacturing with styles and designs exclusive to each region.

Despite surviving the 1979 revolution and the1980s Iran-Iraq War, Iranian hand-woven carpet industry revenues are declining. Competition from neighbouring countries, US sanctions (Iranian product imports are currently banned in the US, including Persian rugs) and a post-Covid-19 recession, not to mention the political unrest currently gripping Iran, is the likely cause.

Competition from machine-made carpets and rugs that copy the style and patterns of the original Persian rugs also only serves to put the price of antique rugs up, and even vintage rugs up to 50 years old, as they are an increasingly rare and finite resource.

Due to the exquisiteness of the materials used and the hard labour and time it takes to complete every hand-knotted Persian rug or carpet, genuine hand-made antique Persian rugs from the last century and earlier are expensive—ranging from $500 to $50,000.

Several factors determine the price of a Persian rug, including the knot count per square inch, which can be anywhere from 60 to 1,000 knots per inch for the finest examples, use of hand-spun versus machine-spun yarns, and the application of natural dyes, size and design.