The town of Shiraz is the capital of the Fars province. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. My family and I have visited many times. On the way to the city, you drive along an avenue lined with palm trees and endless rows of blooming roses. You can be quite intoxicated by the scent of the lemon trees, which bloom in May.
Shiraz is also called the ‘city of roses’ or the ‘city of poets’. This is where two of Persia’s famous poets were born, Saadi (1210-1291) and Hafis (1325-1389). Not many carpets are being made in the town of Shiraz, but it is a gathering point for the entire area. The carpets called Shiraz on the market today are knotted rather loosely, with 90,000-150,000 knots per m2. The wool is often flexible and lustrous. The carpets can be extremely charming and fall in the lower end of the price range. However, the good quality products can be quite expensive. They are often called Kashgai carpets or Kashkuli. In this area, natural dyes are often used, but synthetic dyes are not unheard of. The patterns usually consist of hexagons and stylised animals and flower motifs. Typical to these nomadic carpets is that many of them have a two-coloured edge stitching. In some carpets from this area, you can often find motifs from Persepolis. They may consist of the characteristic columns, with the head of a horse or bull, or some of the motifs that are part of the wall decorations at the old palace. Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. A number of nomadic tribes still live in the area today. On the way south to Firouz-Abad, you can encounter nomads from the Turki tribes. They speak a Turkish dialect because they originate from Turkey, having migrated out of the country in the 13th-14th century.
These Turki nomads that we met were travelling all the way from Ghir, by the Persian Gulf, heading 300-350 km north to the Baktiar area. They did not want to settle down as they loved living a free life. They move their flocks of sheep north in April-May before it gets too hot, and then they head back south in October. The sheep are sheared twice a year, and the wool is hand-spun by the women into carpet yarn.
Kashgai, Gashkai, Qashqai, Gaschgai, Ghashgai, Kashkai
There are many nomadic tribes in the area. Most people just refer to them as Kashgai nomads, but behind this common name hides a wealth of individual tribes. For example, the Kashkuli, Bulli, Turki, Darashuri, Shisbuluki, Farsimadan, Safi Khani, Gallanzans, Rahimi and Qarachihi tribes are some of the most important in the area. The women from these tribes still knot beautiful carpets. You might think that they use Turkish knots because of their Turkish heritage. But this is not the case at all. In particular, the very tightly-knotted carpets are usually made using Persian knots (the Senneh knot).
Firouz-Abad, Firooz Abad, Firuzabad
My parents visited the town of Firouz-Abad in the Kashkuli area. This is where they met Mr Heidari, who took them out to see his sister, a renowned and skilled knotter in the area. At the time, she was working on a Kashkuli carpet that was going to be about 16 x 26 ft when complete. She was knotting using the Persian knot (the Senneh knot) on a horizontal loom, and she used no tools other than a small pocketknife to cut the yarn. The wool for the pile was very finely spun, and for the dyeing she used only natural dyes. It was a dense, good quality carpet. The knot density was just over 55,000 per ft2. She had also made a beautiful multi-coloured edge stitching, which was woven together with the carpet. The yarn was on both sides of the loom. The pattern was complicated, without many unicoloured surfaces, and instead it full of small stylised animals and flowers as well as a medallion. They could not see a pattern sheet next to the loom. So my mother asked, ‘Where do you keep the pattern?’ The woman responded, ‘This is our old family pattern. I can remember it, and then I knot whatever I feel in my heart.’ She was a skilled and very proud knotter. Recounting this visit, my mother has said how impressed she was and how it brought her joy and warmed her heart. Then, my parents went home with Mr Heidari to see more Kashkuli carpets. His daughter, a young girl 20-22 years of age, came in and greeted them rather shyly. She wanted to show them a carpet that she had just finished. The pattern also contained a stylised medallion and animal and flower motifs, and it was knotted at about 46,000 knots per ft2. She said that she was using a horizontal loom because the carpet is easier to beat evenly using this kind of loom, and this made it harder to end up with crooked borders. This is how we learnt that there were still people among younger generation who harboured great love for the carpet artistry. And even if Mr Heidari’s daughter, who was studying to be a doctor, was not going to live off it, it was nice to see that the young generation still honours the old traditions, still uses hand-spun wool from their own sheep and still carries out the dyeing themselves – using natural dyes.
Persepolis, a palace from ancient times, about 80 km north-east of Shiraz in Iran, was founded in 500-400 BC under Darius I and Xerxes, with minor later additions. The construction, located on a plateau on the east side of the Kuh-i-Rahmat mountain, was more ceremonial in nature than having the function of permanent residency for the Achaemenid kings. One of the staircases in the north-eastern corner leads, via the ‘All Nation’s Gate’, to the great audience hall, Apadana, which with its 215 ft in height, towered atop a 26 ft pillar. On the northern and eastern side of Apadana is the staircase to a porticus with a double row of columns. The roof of Apadana was supported by 6x6 large columns. Behind Apadana are countless smaller, square rooms surrounding a garden. In the eastern half there is Sad Satun (The Hall of Hundred Columns); the roof of this square room was supported by 10x10 columns. In front of Sad Satun is a yard that leads to a large gate tower. Behind Sad Satun is the so-called Xerxes harem. The entire construction is fortified with double walls along three sides. Kuh-i Rahmats eastern side formed a natural fortification to the west. Perspepolis was richly decorated with sculptured column capitals and bases as well as reliefs carved into the limestone. Most famous are the staircases, with processions of life guardsmen, the so-called immortals, and representatives of the different peoples under the rule of the Achaemenid king as well as the large sculptures of bull people at the eastern gate. The reliefs and the column capitals were originally painted in strong colours and many were presumably gifted. Persepolis burned to the ground in 330 BC, when Alexander the Great resided there during his conquests, and today it is a ruin. The location is testimony to a cultural and economic golden age. In 1765, the Danish researcher Carsten Niebuhr visited Perspepolis, where he made a very precise copy of all the inscriptions on the marble walls. Persepolis was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
You are reading an extract from the book ‘Oriental Carpets, Knottet with Love’ by Martin Munkholm.
This extensive book about all that is carpets can be borrowed in Danish libraries or be bought following this link: http://www.belle-rugs.dk/dk/ekspertise/taeppebog/
The book is published by Muusmann Forlag.
For more info: muusmann-forlag.dk
You can find our selection of Shiraz carpets underneath.