The Test of Time
One of the most fascinating aspects of rug weaving is the fact that it has been an art form for centuries. A handmade Oriental rug woven in India today is using the same types of materials, techniques and craftsmanship as the rugs woven over 2000 years ago!
The Oldest Known Carpet
No one really knows when and where the art of weaving pile rugs began. The best any historian can guess is that the technique began in Asia when natives discovered the wool of their sheep could be cut and used as coverings rather than sacrificing the whole sheep for the hide. At that time, the wool was used to weave carpets, beds, seats, window coverings -- anything useful but not decorative. When rug weaving became an art form is still unknown. However, it was sometime before 500 BC! The oldest know carpet to have been discovered is the Pazyryk Carpet. This carpet was discovered in 1947 by a Russian archeologist in a tomb of a Scythian Chieftan. The tomb had flooded at some point in history and then froze the contents, which preserved the rug for so many centuries. The rug was in remarkable condition except for one corner that had been destroyed. It is a hand-knotted rug woven much like Anatolian rugs today, made of wool with an amazing amount of detail. Tests on the rug prove it had been woven sometime in the 5th century BC!! This makes the rug well over 2500 years old!! What is even more amazing is that the rug weaving technique was perfected by that time -- rug weaving had already been around for many, many years before this rug was woven.
Famous Rugs in history
There are other examples of rug weaving being a common art form centuries ago. It is alluded to in the Old Testament that King Solomon adorned his Temple with finely knotted rugs. Cleopatra is rumored to have wrapped herself in an Oriental carpet to present herself to Julius Caesar. Romans used Oriental rugs as forms of payment for taxes -- being more valuable than money. Egyptians used the rugs to lay before statues of their gods. All of this occured in years 30 BC and before! Another famous rug was woven in 550 BC known as the Spring Carpet of Chosroes. The carpet was woven for the King of Persia, Chosroes I. It was reported to be 400'x100' and woven with wool, silk, gold and silver strands with jewels woven throughout. The design was of a Persian garden that the King could walk through. Sadly, the rug was destroyed during an invasion of Persia and all that remains are some of the jewels, now housed in various museums.
Oriental rugs continued to be important signs of wealth, even 1500 years later. Henry VIII is said to have been an ardent admirer of Turkish rugs. In fact, Hans Holbein, a famous painter of the time, painted so many portraits of Henry VIII with rugs in them a rug had been named in his honor -- the Holbein Rug. Queen Eleanor of Castille is said to have brought numerous rugs with her from her homeland when moving to England to marry Edward I and Marco Polo referenced rugs from all over the East during his travels. In fact, Marco Polo is largely attributed to introducing Oriental carpets to Europe. Oriental rugs have truely stood the test of time. Despite modern technology, the quality and beauty of a handmade Oriental rug cannot be surpassed.
The 16th Century AD saw some of the finest works of Oriental weaving in history. The finest rug reportedly ever woven is the Ardebil Carpet. It was discovered in a Mosque in Persia and was originally a pair of identical rugs woven with silk and wool with a knot count of 350 knots per square inch. The rugs were in such poor condition, one was cut down in order to restore the other. The restored version rests in the Albert and Victoria Museum and is considered one of the finest examples of rug weaving in history.