Khorassan Rugs home page
Khorassan Proper Meshhed Herat

    Sterling rugs, some of which possess much artistic merit, come from this far eastern province of Persia, which even now extends from the borders of Irak Ajemi, in Central Persia, to Afghanistan, and from the Turkoman boundaries of Asiatic Russia, southward to the province of Kirman. Most of the western portion of Khorassan is desert, in the scattered oases of which only small villages are found. The greater part of the weaving is done in the hill country, along the northern and eastern borders. Fragments of many races populate the province — Iranians, Arabs, Turkomans, Kurds, and what not — and the fabrics therefore are of many sorts. The Iranian element is for the most part sedentary, and has assimilated many of the Arabs and Kurds. The Tartar tribes are wanderers, as they have ever been. The Afghans and Baluches who roam in numbers along the eastern and southeastern confines are robbers to the manner born, and prone to violence.

    The best varieties of Khorassan fabrics show something of the same opulence in design, which is found in old Ispahan and Teheran rugs, though with more of the treatment of the Kirman rug previously described. The works of the nomad classes are devoid of fineness, but like those of similar tribes in the Caucasus and Asia Minor are rich in bold effects, and durable beyond belief. In Khorassan both the upright and horizontal looms are used, also both methods of knotting.

    Khorassan Proper. — The realism, which marks certain rugs of the Feraghan group, is fairly outdone in many of the proper Khorassans. There is, perhaps, not so much of poetic feeling apparent, but the floral designs are more interesting for the reason that passably successful effort is made to portray them in perspective. In drawing and coloring the floral masses with which the grounds are covered in some of the more pretentious Khorassans suggest European treatment. The largest and most difficult forms are undertaken, not only without much concession to Oriental decorative convention, but with evident intent to depict them as growing out of the ground. As compared with the flowers in the Teheran and Ispahan rugs, these are as exotics to the exuberant growths of the field. In brilliancy of color and general treatment they resemble somewhat the Kirmans; but even where the central medallion is used the "painted panel" appearance of the Tabriz fabrics is absent.

    In some rugs lavish use is made of animal figures, birds and humans. They are all most brilliant in coloring and are drawn with much skill though in rather bad proportion. They are not represented in motion, as is customary in the Teheran and Ispahan fabrics, but in the most photographic and everlasting of poses. A favorite device in these creations is the Persian heraldic emblem, a lion, sword in hand, with the great sun rising at his back. The geographical location of Khorassan and its history go far toward explaining the prevalence of many of the features in design. That part of the province in which the rug making is almost wholly carried on lies in the main track of travel between Teheran and the East. Its cities have been for centuries the religious centers of Mohammedan Persia, although they have been taken and occupied at intervals by Mongol invaders. Nishapur, most important of these during the Middle Ages, and under one dynasty the capital, was the home of Omar Kayak and other learned men whose writings have survived to our era and found translation into other languages. Thus, in close touch, with China, and yet a home of Persian culture, and withal famous for the industrial skill of its people, this one city alone must have had much to do with the establishment of the high type, which prevails in the best of the Khorassan rugs even now.

    It would seem, however, that for a long time the superlative rugs of Khorassan had been made farther to the south. Bellow in his book, " From the Indus to the Tigris", says:

    " Birjand, the modern capital of the district of Ghayn, or Cayn, an open town of about two thousand houses… is the center of a considerable trade with Kandahar and Herat on the one side, and Kirman, Yezd and Teheran on the other. It is also the seat of the rug manufacture for which this district has been celebrated from of old. These rugs are called kalin, and are of very superior workmanship, and of beautiful designs, in which the colors are blended with wonderful harmony, and incomparable good effect. The best kinds fetch very high prices, and are all bespoke by agents for nobles and the chiefs of the country. The colors are of such delicate shades, and the patterns are so elaborate and tasteful, and the nap is so exquisitely smooth and soft, that the rugs are only fit for use in the divans of Oriental houses, where shoes are left without the threshold. The best kinds are manufactured in the villages around, and those turned out from the looms of Duroshkt Nozad enjoy a preeminent reputation for excellence. ...

    " Sihdih, as the name implies, is a collection of three villages on the plain to which they give their name. Only one of these is now inhabited, the other two being in ruins. Very superior rugs are manufactured here, and they seem to fetch also very superior prices, to judge from those asked of us for some specimens we had selected.

    " Ghayn exports its silks mostly to Kirman raw, but a good deal is consumed at home in the manufacture of some inferior fabrics for the local markets. The rugs known by the name of this town are not made here, but in the villages of the southern division of this district".

    The genuine Khorassan is not, however, confined to large, showy designs. All of the more minute patterns in vogue among the artisans of the other districts of Persia are made use of by the people of the eastern province. The pear, the fish pattern, and the conventionalized floral devices recognized as belonging to the Persian decoration are frequent. In their use of the pear, the Khorassan weavers have devised a complex pattern of their own, which, though it has been adopted into other families, is looked upon as the property of the inventor. Two small pears in light color rest their narrow ends, or tops, upon a larger one, at right angles, so as to form a cross, the arms of which lie diagonally to the field of the rug, and the repetition of the pattern makes of the small, light colored pears a pronounced diagonal stripe throughout the entire area. The large, dark red pears are so arranged that their stripe is broken at regular intervals. At these points of fracture two of the large pears are placed side by side and a new stripe is begun. The smaller pear figures are jewelled with tiny patterns in bright color. A recurring perpendicular stripe is made by yet other and longer pear shapes, placed vertically between the cross patterns. The blue of the ground, showing between these groups, itself forms a horizontal stripe, and the effect of the whole is rich and striking.

    Sometimes the medallion is used, always covered with a skilfully arranged design in small figures. A pronounced waving vine is usually found in the main stripe of the border, drawn in white on a ground of dark red. Frequently, as a substitute for the rosettes, palmettes, and lotus buds common in Herati design, the pear groups are used. The narrow borders repeat the undulating effect, some times in two vines on a blue field, or in some mixed pattern on a lighter ground. Where the body is filled with the great, rich flower designs before mentioned the border usually presents a consistently large pattern composed of the established Assyrian elements.

    The knots of the old Khorassans are closely woven. The compactness, which this insures, makes the rug lie firmly, even on a highly polished floor, a virtue which looser fabrics have not. In length of pile the Khorassans vary, but in almost all lengths, even in some of the more closely trimmed examples, there is a peculiar appearance of surface, similar to that of rugs which have undergone wear, and in which the corrosive effect of certain dyes has begun to be apparent. It is most evident in pieces which have large patterns, and in which it is not necessary to bring out minute points of color. This uneven clipping adds to the softness given by the fine wool with which the rugs are napped. It gives to a rug which has from a hundred and twenty-five to a hundred and fifty knots to the square inch, and in its foundations is excessively solid, the appearance of being fleece to the foot. This same peculiarity occurs in some varieties of antique India rugs.

    Through ignorance, probably, vendors often sell old Feraghans for the fine-patterned Khorassan. The Khorassan dyes have hitherto been to a laudable extent vegetable. Lately a new line of products has been brought to this country, woven in the Feraghan pattern, but upon a red ground instead of blue, as is the custom in the real Feraghans. The foundations are cotton, but the weaving is compact and careful, better, in fact, than most of the modern proper Feraghans. The pile is not finished like the Feraghans, but is trimmed unevenly, after the Khorassan fashion. The dyes in these new fabrics leave much to be desired.

    Meshhed. — This, the capital of Khorassan, was once almost wholly a city of worship; it holds the shrines of Imam Riza and Caliph Haroun al Raschid. It lies in the eastern part of the province, and for centuries has been the objective point of Mussulman pilgrimages from all over Asia, particularly by the Persians and others of the Shiite sect whose saints are entombed there. Thousands whose scant worldly store did not warrant them in making the journey to Mecca have contented themselves and no doubt demonstrated their fidelity satisfactorily, by accomplishing the devotional trip to Meshhed. It is really the most central place in Asia, a veritable hub, from which great highways, like the spokes of a wheel, run out in all directions. More or less weaving, some of it of the highest merit, has always been done in and about the city. Many rugs were brought, too, by the pilgrims as offerings, and a vast trade in textiles sprang up. Little by little Meshhed lost its religious tone. Its situation made it a perfect emporium, a natural commercial centre. Its wonderful road system, by which it can be directly reached from any part of Asia, has been utilized more and more every year by caravans, until now it is one of the greatest marts in all the East.

    The rugs vended here are among the best that the Khorassan district knows. Traditionally they are rich and lustrous beyond measure. All the opulence of color and perfection of floral and animal design that distinguishes the pure Khorassan is found in the rugs, which bear the name of the Shiite Mecca. The chief features of the antiques are preserved, but the more modern fabrics, while they hold high rank even among the Persian loom works, have sacrificed much, of artistic finish to strength and durability, and are now almost as substantial as the Herati or even the Kurdistan Sarakhs. They present as patterns the great cone or pear shapes, in larger form perhaps than any other rug. In the border these take the long form common to India and Kashmir; they are placed transversely and often alternated with the crossed arrangements described as a feature of the proper Khorassans. The designs in the most pretentious examples include also the animal forms, set in luminous colors upon the brightest of grounds. The pile is not trimmed in the uneven manner of the other Khorassans, but presents the smooth, compact surface common in the Herat, to which they are nearly related. In finish of ends and sides they follow the Khorassans. They are worked in the Ghiordes knot.

    Herat. — The state of facts which has seemed to warrant the classification of the Mosul fabrics with the Caucasian finds exact duplication here, in the case of the rugs named for Herat, the City of a Hundred Gardens, which, from its strategic importance, has become famed world-wide as the " Key of India". Though now outside of the geographical confines of the Persian realm, it bears intimate historical relation to Persia, and its rugs are allied in design and coloring to the Persian family of textiles, rather than to those of the Turkoman districts on the north, or the Mongolian on the east. The fish pattern, which has been referred to as prevailing in Feraghan rugs, is in its purity known among experts as the Herat pattern. It seems tolerably clear that it originated neither in Herat nor in the Feraghan district, but was primarily a gift, in which two at least of the older civilizations contributed each its part. However that may be, the design, as a diaper for the body of the rug, and the accompaniment recognized as the Herat border are preserved in their integrity in the modern Herat fabrics. The Herat border has been utilized, with more or less modification, in half the rug-making sections of the Orient. In many of the finest pieces in the European collections it is used to enclose a central design of the purest Persian, the distinctive Persian character being maintained, as one authority points out, by the employment of dark red for the ground-color of the central field, and a corresponding value of green for the ground of the border, a combination which seems to have enjoyed the highest favor among the Persian masters.

    The majority of Herat rugs adhere religiously to the old design, and whatever their dimensions are in every essential point, materials, dyeing and weaving, unsurpassed by any, which come out of the East. Aside from the recognized Herat pattern, almost the only other device used is the pear shape, repeated throughout the field after the manner of the Sarabands, save that the Saraband has the hook turned in opposite directions in the alternate rows, while in the Herati it is drawn uniformly. This seems to be employed only in the finest of the modern examples, and the elongated, gracefully curved shape of the patterns gives indication of the close relation, which, by reason both of trade and conquest, has for centuries existed between India and the Afghan capital. When used for the field the pattern is often upon a ground of cream yellow or some other light shade, though the usual ground color is blue. In the border, which accompanies it, in these instances, the weavers retain the typical Herat forms. Although the fish patterns used in Feraghan and Herati are essentially identical, the latter is woven in the Ghiordes knot, the former in the Sehna.

    It is a common belief that the Herat rugs are woven in Khorassan. The ground for this is without doubt the thoroughly Persian character of the fabrics, the knot being the only point of variance. In this connection it is important to know that the Herati do not speak of their country as Afghanistan, but always as Khorassan, a usage dating back to the time when the Persian sway was less circumscribed than it is today.

    There is a coarse form of Herat rug, which is offered under the name of Aiyin, or Kayin. home page
Khorassan Proper Meshhed Herat


Devotional trip to Meshhed:
How great a multitude of rugs came into the possession of the mollahs is indicated by the statement of Dr. Bellew. He describes the vast graveyard at Meshhed to which, from all parts of Persia people brought the bones of their kinsfolk to be buried. " Prior to the famine", he says, "these interments amounted to forty thousand annually. After the great national disaster poverty caused a widespread neglect of the custom, and the number fell to something like twelve thousand. It has never returned to its former maximum since Meshhed, of late years, has taken on the character of a commercial center".

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