Classic And Contemporary Area Rugs – Oriental & Persian Rugs

Article Written By Nena | Category: Area Rugs

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to go to Bazaar Farsh (Farsh literally meaning ‘to spread’ and also a word for carpet or rug in Farsi) in the old centre of Tehran, or the ancient bazaar in Tabriz (the capital of East Azerbaijan Province, Iran) then you will know the meaning of classic meets contemporary when it comes to all that is knotted and woven and tied and rests on a floor.

Photo of Bazaar by Joel Meadows

Photo of Bazaar by Joel Meadows

The carpet and rug bazaars themselves are places where classic, ancient and new, contemporary come together; classic being the barbars who are bent from carrying rugs on their backs, and ancient are the designs and motifs that mimic great Islamic architectural patterns, and new is the fresh wool and the dyes, and contemporary are the colors that illuminate piles of rugs spread out on platforms for viewing or draped on walls, and spilling out into the walkways…rolls and rolls of carpet and miles and piles of wool area rugs from every dealer’s stall or shop or office where international rug trading is as ancient an art as it is a modern industry.

Photo of Grand bazaar by Fabien Dany

Photo of Grand bazaar by Fabien Dany

The scent of these market places is one that any rug lover knows without looking – the aroma of musty wool, the earthy smell of the bowls of liquid dye, mixed with the scent of narghile sheesha tobacco from hookah pipes, perhaps a simmering pot of sweet Persian tea or cardamom-scented coffee on a coal fire, some incense, and a distant whiff of kebab.

A Persian Rug

Here, in a bazaar in Tehran or Tabriz, is where you will find the Heriz design wool area rug, brought from other cities, like the famous Ardebil, with its distinctive geometric pattern, different due to straight lines and jagged edge motifs like the Kazak rugs of southern Azerbaijan – more modern than what you’d expect from a Persian wool area rug. The Heriz (or Hariz or Heris) wool area rugs are thick, tough, and often less expensive than the more classic Tabriz carpets.

Tabriz rug red

Although in the bazaars it can be tough to wade through the piles of rugs that have been loosely woven, or that have a low knot count, and are of poor quality, it is certain that by the time they have been inspected and reach a boat or a plane and are imported to a distant country, only the best and strongest rugs have survived the rigorous scrutiny of dealers and merchants trained in carpet buying.

Quality control is to some extent what an importer is all about. The carpets that are collected by the initial buyer with an eye for color, texture and design, will then be passed on to be thoroughly examined by experienced carpet inspectors who spend of their lives on their knees.


When buyers select carpets, more than half of what they see is rejected quickly by the first inspector. Subsequent inspection may reveal an odd dye tone or a warp or a crease or a crinkle that no amount of stretching will fix, so the next ones are eliminated, and so on, until only a few select area rugs and carpets are chosen for shipment overseas.

Mehraban runners or Mehriban area rugs, which use the Hamadan weave, are often decorated with flowers and medallions on dark (often blue) backgrounds. These fantastic and historic rugs come from a place west of Teheran, between Sarouk and Hamadan, and are considered sturdy wool rugs having one heavy cotton weft and then thick, high quality wool, coarsely woven into fine and durable rugs, perfect for hallway runners and high traffic areas.

Bakhtiari area rugs

Another great area rug from the region is the Bakhtiari area rugs and carpets tinted with vegetable dyes, and although sometimes the yarn is spun by machine, they are fine carpets made from symmetrical knots single or doubled wefted. The single wefted rugs may be similar to Hamadan except that Bakhtiari tend to have larger wefting.

Karadja carpets, although similar to Hamadan, and can also be decorated with hooked medallions (somewhat like the Lambaran), but are in fact different because the wool is coarser and therefore the rugs are heavier. Karadja rugs are primarily runners or small area rugs, rarely large carpets.

Although the word ‘Persian’ or Oriental carpet or rug may instantly conjure in western minds the idea of an ancient, old or traditional rug, this is not at all the case for the rug makers or their dealers. Since carpets are constantly being designed, woven and knotted, each piece is new, and motifs that may appear traditional may actually be variants of the original patterns, and the coloring or dyes may be in keeping with modern trends, and therefore considered very contemporary.

The other thing is that ‘antique’ to those who make carpets may simply mean something that was not made this year or last. When you live and work and sell your wares amidst buildings with walls and arches that are truly ancient, in a land that has a history as old as man, then perhaps the words modern and contemporary versus antique and traditional have a very different meaning indeed.

kilim rug
kilim rugs

It is interesting to note that about 5 million weavers in Iran create carpets and a million of those are for export alone. Needless to say there are styles created that mimic both old and new flooring styles. The most common sizes are the Farsh or Qalii which are anything over 6×4 feet, the Qalicheh is anything under 6×4, and the famous Kilim rugs of the nomads are all much smaller in general (usually prayer rugs) and used abroad as toss rugs or small area rugs.

Speaking area rug sizes, one really, really big area rug, perhaps the largest on record is the one in the Grand Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat which is 4,343 square meters in size. (Photo of Sultan Qaboos Mosque courtesy of Iran Carpet Co.)


When seeking wool area rugs, Persian and oriental rugs are almost all made of wool. Cotton is only for the foundation, wool is what creates the pile and what receives the wear. Some of the wool is Kork wool, Manchester wool, and even Camel Hair wool, while silk may be softer and finer it is also more expensive and less durable. Oriental silk carpets are most often wall tapestries and not intended for heavy traffic on the floor.

When it comes to Persian rugs motifs and designs, weavers often create patterns from memory since most rug makers are born into the trade from childhood the designs become second nature, however many patterns are just variations of similar classic designs and are not replicas anything but the creations of the weavers as they work. This is true of geometric shapes more so than the designs of area rugs that are curved or vine-like or floral or have medallions. The truly elaborate motifs that are traditional have now been put onto computer and these create perfect antique replicas. Fortunately the hand woven and knotted rugs are still the ones most prized and the most expensive. The motifs that are most well known are the Boteh, Gul, Herati, Mina-Khani, Rosette and Shah Abbasi


The boteh design for area rugs is the Farsi word for flower bud or palm leaf or cluster of leaves that can also include shapes that we see as a flame or a teardrop or pear and yet is most widely called the paisley pattern because the Scottish town of Paisley imitated the pattern that was found from a Kashmir shawl with a boteh design. I used to think it had been the other way around. But next time you see a carpet with paisleys you might be inclined to give it a second look.

gul motif

Gul area rugs come from the Farsi word for flower and therefore it is common area rug motif, but it is argued that the word gul is also the Turkish word for tribe, and therefore a family emblem and not a flower. That would explain why not all gul rug patterns are floral!

Herati area rugs are elaborate patterned rugs that come from the Farsi word for fish –
Mahi, however there are many gorgeous motifs in this category that are flowers centered in a diamond with curving leaves that stretch beyond the diamond shapes. Many of these area rugs are made in Heart, Afghanistan and therefore the name we know today.

herati motif

Mina-Khani area rugs use a type of pattern that is repeated over a rug and often has a central palmetto and vines and eight flowers in a lattice design that might also be described as the way you might see flowers or fruit if standing above them. The rugs from Tehran, Belouch and Tabriz often have this design.

rosette motif

Rosette area rugs will commonly have a circular pattern of designs that are based round a focal or central medallion or motif such as those found in the Nain area rugs.

Shah Abbasi is a common pattern of the Tabriz area rugs derived from the word for men’s cloaks which is Abaas that were woven in the city of Nain where these rugs originated. The cloaks didn’t do very well, so weavers switched from cloak making to rug making and used the same motifs – usually vines and curvy shapes of flowers and animals intertwined in complex layered patterns.

loom rug making

How are these Persian rugs made? Well, the weft is passed through the bottom warp to form a base and then loosely piled knots of wool are tied around adjacent warps to form the area rug designs. It’s very time consuming because a knot count can be up to 550 knots per square inch. It’s almost a crime to walk on such a rug!

There are looms for weaving rugs also and the main function of the loom is to provide tension. There are horizontal looms which are used by nomadic peoples and produce small area rugs vertical looms that can produce unlimited lengths of rug, which is where runners are often made. In Iran, the Tabriz loom, which has a fixed upper beam and a moveable lower one, is the most common. Tension is created by adding wedges into slots along the sides and weavers position is raised as the rug is woven.

Many of the carpet styles and motifs and knots and patterns as well as the overall rugs themselves are derived from the names of the cities where the technique or the motif originated. That is why carpets are named Abadeh, Ardabil, Herat, Heriz or Hariz or Heris, Nain, Shiraz, Tabriz, Veramin or Zabol just to name a few of the most well known centers from which Persian come from.


Another famous floor covering are the Gabbeh rugs, which are traditional tribal carpets made in the Zagros region of northwestern Iran, and are considered natural fiber carpets since the term gabbeh is exactly that – natural.

These wonderful wool area rugs are great for any home that is looking for new contemporary area rugs because each carpet is unique depicting women’s lives, emotions and stories of what surrounds them but translated into geometric and asymmetrical patterns that are akin to modern styles and avant-garde designs. These are artistic and individual masterpieces woven with thick pile wool although the knot count is low, they are of high quality and very coveted in the western world.

These gabbeh rugs are often seen being sold by discount wool area rugs sellers and they are not genuine from the women of the Zagros area.

Gabbeh Luribaft

Many of these fakes are made in India or China and may be immediately identified because they are not good quality wool, have been dyed with chemicals and not the natural tints used by Zagros women and usually have a white fringe that the originals don’t have.

If you want a genuine gabbeh wool area rug then a good place to find them online is there are many expensive varieties that appear original, but if they say made in India they cannot possibly be originals no matter how expensive they are.
However a true Gabbeh area rug will cost no les than about $1,000 and most are closer to $2000, $3000 or more.

Here are some Gabbeh to choose from:

  • Amalehbaft
  • Basic Gabbeh
  • Kashkoli
  • Kelim
  • Luribaft
  • Oushak
  • Shekarlu
  • Sumak

Each rug is handmade and unique and there are no two alike, but to give you an idea of size and price:

  • Gabbeh-Amalehbaft Wool Area Rug – 10′ 2″ x 15′ 4″ –$13, 200.
  • Gabbeh-Amalehbaft Wool Area Rug — 10′ 2″ x 12′ 5″ — $4,980.
  • Gabbeh-Amalehbaft Wool Area Rug — 9′ 8″ x 12′ 10″ — $4,260.
  • Gabbeh-Amalehbaft Wool Area Rug — 9′ 8″ x 12′ 4″ — $5,640.
  • Gabbeh-Amalehbaft Wool Area Rug — 9′ 5″ x 12′ 7″ — $6,860.

If you seek hand tufted wool area rugs in a modern, geometric or contemporary pattern you will probably be able to find it in a Persian carpet style. These oriental rugs can be large enough to fill a room, or simply be hallway runners or accent rugs. Because of their strength and durability they are sturdy enough to be kitchen rugs in a modern home with lots of foot traffic.

Contemporary area rugs, made in villages and cities in Iran and Afghanistan and Turkey and many other parts of the world, are natural rugs, created by men and women who have made wool carpet weaving and knotting, not merely a profession, but their life. Most Persian area rugs online have come from the hands that have perfected the art of creating area carpets and contemporary rugs that blend well with any modern décor.

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