Carpet weaving in Iran has a very long history. Years before the Arabs invaded Iran and conquered it, Iranian deserters and villagers were weaving carpets. Xenophon, the Greek commander and historian in his book, “Cyropaedia” says: “The Persians spread carpets beneath them so that their beds were soft.” In ancient Persian literature, the famous throne "Taqdis" belonging to Khosrow Parviz, the Sassanid king, was frequently mentioned, on which were spread four large carpets, each representing one of the four seasons. The carpet was made of gold and silver and its flowers were precious stones.
According to the narratives of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the beginning of carpet weaving goes back to the time of Tahmoureth, that is, the time of the Pishdadian. The history of al-Tabari has spoken of carpets woven with animal hair and wool during this period.
No reliable information is available on weaving the early carpets and which ethnicity originally did it. Because carpets are damaged by moisture and insects because of their natural structure. The oldest sign of carpet weaving goes back to the Bronze Age. This is a carpet weaving knife found from the Bronze Age Tomb of Turkmenistan and northern Iran. In Shahr-e Sukhteh (plain of Sistan-southeast of Iran), these carpets, fabrics and knitting tools were obtained from 2500-2800 BC. In the Achaemenid period, according to Xenophon, the ancient city of Sardis boasted of its carpets adorned with marginal patterns and tassels of men and griffins.
The earliest sample found by archaeologists is a carpet that is called Pazyryk rug because it was found in a frozen grave of a Scythian ruler in the Pazyryk Valley, 80 kilometers from foreign Mongolia. Used as a horse cover, it has 36 Turkish knots per square centimeter. And scholars consider the carpet to be Iranian because of the motifs similar to the original Achaemenid motifs and believe that the carpet is the handmade of the Medes and Parthians (old great Khorasan). The colors used in this carpet are ochre, yellow, pale green and orange. The similarity of the motifs of the horsemen and men walking alongside their horses, and the winged animals in this carpet with Persepolis motifs, reinforces the accuracy of these scholars. Experts also believe that carpet weaving with such features requires cultural and artistic support for carpet weaving for at least several centuries, indicating that for many centuries, before weaving the famous Pazyryk rug, this profession was common in Iran plateau and Iranians had realized its secret.
Although there are no specific sample from the Sassanid era, it is well known that the Persian rug during the Sassanid era was well-known worldwide. As the Chinese yearbook (Sui Su) refers to the woolen carpet of Iran as an export commodity to China at this time. The narrations of the famous Baharestan carpet at the Ctesiphon Palace are more like a myth. But regardless of the exaggerated aspects, the above news shows signs of the ability and superiority of Iranian artists, and their pioneering in the art of carpet weaving.
With the rise of Islam and the collapse of the magnificent Sassanid system, the art of carpet weaving, previously supported by the aristocracy, was stagnated. As artists scattered in near and far cities, the art of carpet weaving continued to survive without obvious manifestation. However, this process did not last long, and the caliphs of Bani Umayyah and Bani Abbas, unlike the past caliphs, drew attention to this art in imitation of the past kings and flourished this art.
The Mongol invasion destroyed what the kings had achieved in the past. They were warriors who had conquered the world behind their horses and did not accompany their wives in the face of enemies, and with their invasion, the carpet, created by the female artist's hands, not only didn’t enter Iran, but also caused small carpet weaving workshops to be completely demolished and designers and painters fled to remote areas and villages. Although the Mongols conquered Iran land, they soon subdued to the rich Iranian culture and absorbed to it. The Mongol successors, with having this culture, gradually sought to repair the ruins, respect the artists and provide artistic advancement.
During Timurids, carpet weaving have developed greatly which brought it to the fine arts. In the second half of the ninth century, the miniature pages of the Herat School began to show carpets with curved motifs, sometimes belonging to the group of Lachak and Toranj rugs.
In the Safavid era, the carpet has achieved a high status and prestige different from the past and has changed its face. Valuable samples found in world-renowned museums such as the famous Ardebil carpet woven for the tomb of the great Safavid ancestor “Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardebili” now available at the Victoria and Albert Museums, are largely the result of royal carpet weaving workshops during this period.
Shah Abbas played an important role in this, since he set up a carpet weaving workshop near his royal palaces between Chehel Sotoun and Shah Square. The kind monitored weavers directly to ensure the quality of weaving and their elegance. Tourist notes such as Tavernier, Chardin, and Robert Shirley confirm this statement. The exquisite carpets of this period are estimated to be over three thousand planking. At this time, Kashan also received many orders due to the quality and elegance of its carpets, and the production of carpets made of gold and silver thread added to the prosperity of the city, as ordered by the Polish court. These carpets, later known as the Polonaisa or Polish carpets, are reminiscent of this period and are now the reason for pride of the museums.
With the extinction of the Safavids, the art of carpet weaving also began to decline. The invasion of Afghanistan destroyed everything suddenly and brought back the painful memory of the Mongol invasion. During the Afsharid period, the production of ornamental carpets decreased due to the ongoing wars. There are two carpets left over from Karim Khan Zand period, one has a date ordered by Kerman ruler and the other is probably woven in Shiraz.
During the Qajar period, Europe and the United States increased the demand for Persian carpets. Tabrizi merchants set up numerous carpet weaving workshops not only in Tabriz but also in Kerman, Mashhad, Kashan and other Iranian cities, and woven carpets made their way to Europe through Istanbul. With the growing boom in the Persian carpet market, foreign merchants thought of investing in Iran and directed this profession by setting up carpet workshops in cities such as Kashan, Arak, Kerman, and ignored their originality by applying their tastes and changing designs.
The existence of the first and second international wars brought Iran's burgeoning carpet market to a standstill and shut down many of the workshops through which they brought their daily bread.