I. The origin of carpets
The history of genuine carpet is more than a few thousand years old. However, about its origin and spreading there are various theories in the literature.
A well-known hypothesis says that the hand knotted carpet has its origin in central Asia (Turkmenistan area), which was invented by the shepherd nomads in imitation of animal skins and spread to West and East by Turkish peoples like the Seldshuks.
Nevertheless, another very interesting statement implies that it is not the using of skin, but rather technical refinement of the older Sumac fabric which led to the origin of the genuine carpet. This refinement was necessary for a more perfect representation of carpet images. Technically it has been proven that a finely-examined Sumac is the prototype of a genuinely hand knotted carpet. This change would have developed not in simple nomadic conditions, but in the old-eastern advanced cultures, in the geographical ethnological residential area of the Armenians ('Armenian culture area').
Also the oldest well-known hand knotted carpet, the so-called 'Pazyrik' - carpet, which originated in the 5th - 4th Century BC must be regarded in its synthesis as one of the first early Armenian certifications, and its origin should be searched for in the South-West Caucasus.
|On the relief of the East stairs of the palace in Persepolis also the Armenian delegation is represented. The cut-out shows a horse leader with its horse. The comparison speaks for itself.|
|The Armenian delegation; Persepolis, 5. cent. BC, East stairs of the Adapana||'Pazyrik' carpet, detail from the border|
II. Summarised history of the spreading of the carpet
Apart from compulsory evacuations particularly to South Persia and into the northern Greek area, three large waves of emigration took place in the first millennium, whereby Armenians gained a foothold not only in Asia Minor, but also in Italy, France and Spain. The threat by the Seldschukens in the 11th century led to the emigration of large parts of the population to the West, where the Wilayet Sivas, the surroundings of Kayseri, Smyrna (Izmir), Taurusberge and Kilikien, northern Greece and the Carpathians became centres of Armenian population. Beyond that we find Armenian emigrants not only in Syria, Egypt, in all coastal towns of the Mediterranean countries, but also in Persia, India, on Sunda lslands and in China.
The 16th and 17th centuries saw the Armenian cultural area again as matter in dispute between East and West, between Safawids and Osmans. Thus the borders frequently changed and both parties availed themselves of Armenian craftsmen. The Armenians, those settled at least since the 1st century AD in the Caucasus area, established different powerful kingdoms and justified for many centuries in former times their own carpet traditions. Even up to the present day they have also played a key role in the carpet trade and in the carpet production outside the Caucasus . The conquerors took advantage of the experience of the Armenians and established the first carpet manufacturies. The most well-known Armenian centre in Persia was now Djulfa by Isfahan, which became within a short time one of the most flowering commercial towns under the protection of Schah Abbas l., from which the residency of the Shahs profited considerably. In the long run the cultural blossoming of the eastern carpets in the 16th and 17th century is due to the countless contributions of the active Armenians of that time.
Until the high Middle Ages hand knotted carpets had been manufactured exclusively in 'the Armenian cultural area' on the one hand and in Spain on the other hand and spread over time to West and East , North and South. There are no reports from antique historians about carpet production in West Turkestan, although the commodity was well-known from China and India.
The Persian carpet was and has become in Europe since a long time ago the epitome of oriental carpets. Oriental carpets have been coming to Europe since the Middle Ages. We find Persian carpets with a historical background in Venice, which has operated an extensive Levant trade since the Middle Ages, whereby the import of oriental carpets has surely played an important role since the 15th Century. When for commercial and political reasons the government of Venice got in touch with the Persian house of the Safawiden and numerous legations were exchanged, particularly into the time of Shah Abbas, Persian carpets were surely coming to Venice.