Antique Shirvan rug - much sought after and now available at Pars Rug Gallery

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Learn more about these beautiful rugs from the Caucuses - now available at Pars Rug Gallery and a series of articles featuring tribal rugs.

Antique Caucasian Shirvan circa 1920s. Shirvan is situated in the Caucuses - this carpet is finely knotted using 100% natural vegetable dyes in vivid reds, blues, gold, brown and green in all over Star design

Antique Caucasian Shirvan circa 1920s. Shirvan is situated in the Caucuses - this carpet is finely knotted using 100% natural vegetable dyes in vivid reds, blues, gold, brown and green in all over Sta

Available now at

The Pars Rug Gallery is delighted to offer antique Shirvan rugs which are much sought after. Shirvan is a town and region in Azerbaijan on the west coast of the Caspian Sea and bordering the northeast of Iran in what is often referred to as the Caucuses. Historically the Caucuses which encompass the mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas has been fought over and conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century, the Persians in the 15th century, the Turks in the 16th century and most recently the Russians in the 19th century and it remained under their influence until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1997 the Caucuses reverted to their former independent countries of Georgia, Armenia, Dagestan and Azerbaijan and as such are now well established.

The oldest known rugs from the Caucuses region are the so-called “Dragon” carpets woven in Armenia and symbolise running water, springs and fountains. The field is generally red but can be blue or brown. The ‘S’ form symbol is the dragon and also refers to the symbol for God. The Dragon carpets led to the development of the Shirvan and Kuba rug styles.

Due to the location of Shirvan many long camel trains passed through the region during the Middle Ages on the silk road and the clash of cultures and religions down the ages have all served to influence the carpet weaving tradition and make Shirvan rugs some of the most highly collectable antiques and much sought-after.

The rugs that have been hand-woven from hand spun wool by the various tribes inhabiting these regions have therefore drawn their influences from their turbulent history down the centuries incorporating both designs and techniques learnt from the Mongols, Persians and Turks. In fact many of the design symbols found in 19th century village and nomadic rugs predate the classical period by centuries. Indeed some of these designs are older than the workshop patterns of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The district and town of Shirvan which also includes Shemaha, Maraza, Marasali, Baku and was populated mainly by Azeri and Armenians (who belong to Iranian families) who were known for their expertise as dyers and weavers. The designs of Shirvan rugs are instantly recognisable with their richly coloured predominance of symbolic medallions, geometric symbols, angular arabesques, stylised palmettes and latticework all woven within multi borders.

The symbols are taken from everyday life and the natural world, people, birds, animals and plants featuring strongly. Whilst we may not immediately understand the language of the symbols as they were passed down the generations it is understood that the weavers used symbols to put the individual in harmony with the world or even to give magical protection. The meanings were passed orally and never written down. However we do know the early peoples from this part of Asia revered the Sun and Moon – the sun symbol may contain a cross with four stations.    It is also shown as huge eagle or sunbird with two heads facing right and left. It has a distinctive mark on its body – a hole to represent the sun-gate where the divine light streams outwards and where all human souls must pass inwards on their final journey. Down the years this has become an open diamond ending up as ‘latch hooks’ as they are called by dealers. The Dragon shapes and snakes often shown as the eagles prey has also evolved into S shapes which are also references to God.

The borders also have their symbolic meaning to act as a fence or barrier. Some show projections like spears pointing outwards serving to ward off threatening forces and often matched with similar spears pointing inwards protecting the good spiritual symbols within the field of the rug. The depiction of humans in a rug may be fertility symbols or to imply the expectation of a baby (bear in mind that in the Islamic religion the depiction of man or woman is not allowed but this has been practised throughout the Iranian culture.) Birds have a variety of meanings associated with them as they float between the earth and heaven symbolising themes of good or bad luck, happiness, love, souls of the departed, power and strength. The cock is a positive symbol dispelling darkness and the ram symbolised fertility and power. The designs are generally geometric across the field of the rug surrounded by borders and also incorporate a leaf shape design called a ‘boteh’.

Shirvan rugs are usually small in size due to being woven either by nomadic tribes or villagers who had to move their sheep to fresh pastures which entailed the looms being continually dismantled and re-erected. This gives the rugs a slightly uneven quality and looser weaves which only lends to the charm and integrity of the rug. Shirvan runners are a popular design lending themselves to the lifestyle of the weaver. Most Shirvan rugs are made purely from wool although a few may have cotton wefts and edges. The most common field colour in Shirvan prayer rugs is ivory – yellow fields are rare.

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Arash Karimzadeh

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