by Ehsan Afzalzadeh Naini, Iran Rug Company
Translated from Persian by Fereidoun Haghighi
The Historical and Geographical aspect of Khorasan province
The name “Khorasan” literally translated as “a place for rising sun” and also in old transcripts it refers to as the “Motalleolshams”. The territory all along its long and turmoil history had raised many talented and acclaimed men in the areas of political, science and literature. In the old days Khorasan was a very large territory which later as the result of several devastating wars and numbers of incompetence rulers got divided into several minor territories which today some part of it belongs to some of neighboring countries such as Afghanistan. Therefore, the Khorasan province of today is a part of an old Khorasan that we see in history books.
Khorasan territory like many parts of Iran was violated by barbaric attacks of Mongolian Empire of the time and had undergone many changes in its history of existence. During the turmoil period, only from “Shahrokh”, descendant of “King Teymour”, and his wife “Lady Goharshad” some historical sites have left intact in Mashhad, the center of the province, such as “Goharshad Mosque” among some other historical buildings which they were a good source of pride and had excellent impact for the province in that time.Apart from Mongols intrusion, “Uzbeks” also played an important rule in destruction of Khorasan and attacked the region many times and add to the difficulties that the territory already had. However, the dark period lasted until the reign of “Mohammad –khan-Ghajar” and than, during the reign of “fath-ali-shah” the relative calm had returned to the land. Currently, khorasan Province possesses an area of 313.000 square kilometer which is roughly one fifth of the entire Iran’s territory, and is located in the Northeastern of country.
Assessment of the Carpet weaving records in Khorasan
Unfortunately, not only form the old woven treasures of Khorasan nothing of significant left, but also there is not very good reference books and transcripts recorded by the historian and explores of other countries. The remained documents which are available today do not describe the history of woven carpets in the area and region coherently. North-eastern part of Iran in old days was divided into two regions: one as the state of “Ghouhestan” and another “grand Khorasan” in the northeast and east of the country. Among the old transcripts and in particular in the “ahsan-al-taghasim” carpet weaving in the Ghouhestan region very clearly and vividly is mentioned.
Period of Devaluation of carpet weaving in Khorasan
In the time when “Shah Esmaeil” conquered Herat (currently, a city of northwest of Afghanistan) in 1510 the capital of the country was shifted to Tabriz and as the result, most artist were transferred from Heart to Tabriz and consequently, second school of art was established in the new capital. Therefore, it is more likely that because of the dearth of artist in the regions such as: Khorasan, khorazm, Bokhara, Ghouhestan, and specially Heart the business of Carpet making had demoted greatly in an extend that currently in some of the areas there is not much of the flourishing activity of the past left with regard to carpet weaving.
The most important centers of carpet weaving in the Khorasan province
The limelight of carpet weaving in the Khorasan province, at the moment, are as follows: Mashhad, Birjand, Kashmar, Torbat jam and Torbat Headarieh (Balouch carpets of Khorasan), Niyshabour, Sabzevar, Gonabad, and from northern part of Khorasan: Ghouchan, Sheervan and Bojnoord. In continuation, we will evaluate the situation of carpet weaving in three cities of Mashhad, Kashmar and Bojnoord.
Brief history of the city of Mashhad
According to some historians, the word Mashhad had been chosen because it was a place for martyrs, and some others translated as: witness, existence, or a place where a martyred had been buried, and that explains why Mashhad is the second largest religious city in the world since the Shrine of Imam Reza (peace upon him) as legitimate successor to Profit Mohammad for the Shiite Moslems has been situated there and he was martyred in the city of Mashhad in the 10th century, because of his religious beliefs. It seems that after 12th century the name Mashhad gained its popularity and it was used in the Historical and Geographical Transcript by the historian. However, in the 14th to 16th centuries, the name Mashhad was followed with suffixes: Razavi, Tous, and Saint. Finally, after the 16th century , the word “Mashhad” which was used with the above mentioned suffixes for many centuries, was refer to as only Saint Mashhad and later gradually changed to just city of Mashhad.
Assessment of the Carpet weaving records in Mashhad
Finding a date for the start of carpet weaving in Mashhad just as in Khorasan has its own difficulties. According to the existing old transcripts about the history of old carpets, the oldest carpet in this city belongs to the period of “Shoh Abbas safavii” from 1587 to 1628. Based on the narratives and written documents that are available today, the oldest carpet in Mashhad was woven by the direct order of Shoh Abbas safavii and it was dedicated to the Imam reza Shrine. Mr. Cecil Edwards, a historian, in his book “Iran Carpet” claims that while he was looking into the documents he had encountered a list and the only list dated 1884 which it refers to the above story of the old carpet in Mashhad. He also mentions that the existence list is based on the narratives of the people, so there is no documentation about the oldest carpet and carpet weaving situation in Mashhad from the Safavian era to beginning of the 20th century.
After a few centuries of uncertainty about the carpet weaving in Mashhad, during the approximately 1825 to 1835, the carpet industry bounced back and revived and from then on the industry has strived for excellence up to date. But is there any comparison between those carpets of old days and the carpets weaving of today in terms of design and colors in the city of Mashhad? Most probably not, today’s carpet industry is more vibrant from artistic point of view and exportation. However, from the beginning of the year 1863 some 30 to 40 priceless and invaluable carpets, both of artistic value as well as high revenue ones, were exported to western countries, which most of them are currently decorating the renowned museums and in the hands of the biggest carpet collectors in Iran and the world. Among those who reestablished the carpet weaving in Mashhad, we can name three masters who played an important rule to revive the carpet industry in Mashhad such as Amou-Oghlii brothers, Mohammad-Ebrahim Makhmalbaf and Haj-Ali Khamenei.
The most important centers of carpet weaving in Mashhad
The most important suburban areas in the city of Mashhad that are active in carpet weaving are as follows: Torghabeh, Jagharg, Shandiz, Zoushk and Noghondar. Comparison of the flourish era and declining today’s carpet industry in Mashhad In a short interview with one of the renowned experts in carpet weaving industry and a major producer in Mashhad, Mr. Ahmad Bazmi, whose mentor was Mr. Saber the master of carpet weaving; he talked about the good days of the carpet industry and the reasons of today’s weakness in carpet weaving in Mashhad.
Assessing reasons for the strength of the industry:
Before the revolution and at the beginning of the reign of Shah Pahlavi, Khorasan’s carpets and especially Mashhad’s ones were among the best in the entire country and a good testimony to that are the carpets that decorated the museums’ wall in Iran and the world. In addition, in the past, famous people such as Amou-Oghlii brothers, Mohammad-Ebrahim Makhmalbaf, Khalil Khadivi and others were major producers of carpets in the region and in no place in Iran, at that time, one could see so many experts working together to create master pieces that we luckily possess today. It is also important for us to know that in that time the Khorasan Province was self-sufficient in obtaining and extracting the best quality none artificial colors from the raw materials utilizing the best techniques.
Assessing reasons for the weakness of the industry:
First, the children of the carpet mentors (mentioned above) were no longer interested in carpet weaving because they were witnessing the difficulties and problems that their parents were facing daily. As the result, they did not want to go through the ordeals of their parents whom at the end of their life had no money, even a penny. Second, in recent years, there were excessive rules and regulations plus heavy taxation that made life difficult for the producers of carpets and the result was devastating since the major producers were forced to shift from collective carpet weaving production to much smaller ones with much smaller locations without adequate lighting system with little or no hygiene what so ever. Third, reduction of income of the producers affected the quality of the carpet production seriously since they had to balance the coffers. Fourth, lack of competence management and experts in the field who could revive the art of carpet weaving in the grand province of Khorasan.
“A carpet weaver makes millions of knots to bring smile and comfort to your home” However said that, unfortunately, the weaver’s name almost never mentioned in the carpet industry because the only thing that is left on the carpet is the name of the producer and nothing else. Nevertheless, there are some known to the public that among them we can name the mentor and master of carpet weaving” Amou-Oghlii” whose carpets are currently in the museum of Iran carpet. Without a doubt, his work is considered to be the most valuable ones as a contemporary carpet weaver in Iran.
Carpet designers in Mashhad
The most important carpet designers of Mashhad are as follows: Alipour, Mirza-Hassan Zarinkalack, Tarhchi brothers, Said Mohsen Saneie, Ahmad Behboudy… to mention just few.
Designing and coloring of Mashhad Carpets
A. Design characteristics of Mashhad carpet
– Sepah Dary or Sepah Salary (which looks like a Toranj or Lachak)
– Sheikh Safi or Shah Safi
– Kouzeh Kanani (Scattered style)
– Samourad (Dr. Samourad’s custom made orders)
– Spread about or scattered style with small flowers (Amou-Oghlii’s style)
– Spread about or scattered style with large flowers (Shah Abbasi’s scattered style)
– In a form if Spread out – all over
– Lachak Toranj- ( corner and medallion) which has several different style:
Lachak Toranj Shah Abbasi
Lachak Toranj Eslimi
Lachak Toranj Simple pattern, western flower
Lachak Toranj Sadie
Lachak Toranj with the picture of animals
Lachak Toranj with the picture of Jungle and animals
Lachak Toranj scattered or spread about
Lachak Toranj bouquet of flower
– Pictorial design and picture of hunting places (It is not seen very often in Mashhad contemporary carpets)
B- Coloring and the usage of colors and their variety
Khorasan carpets are famous for their vivid purplish red or vivid red background (Laky); the natural red color is obtained from a plant with red granule that is only grown in Khorasan region. In general, colors that are used in Mashhad’s carpets are: vivid purplish red or vivid red, jujube red, blue, dark blue, Brown, all kinds of green and crème or custard. Unfortunately, variety of pink and yellow colors, which are used in Tabriz design known as western flowers, are used in Mashhadi’s carpets which they are no mach for the traditional design and colors used in Khorasan and its center Mashhad.
The binder on the sides of carpets
For a period of, approximately, fifty years, binder weaving for the carpets was performed at the same time as carpet weaving itself, but things are different now. Today, the carpet binder is done after the carpet is finished and in some premium costly carpets such as the Amou-Oghliis’ carpets instead of normal binder a method called “Kilim weaving” on the both lengths of the carpet takes place. The kilim around the carpet, which is normally woven by utilizing silk thread, holds the carpet like a frame and gives a fabulous look to the carpet.
Ehsan Afzalzadeh Naini, Iran Rug Company, 2 October, 2004
Note: Dates from the original Persian article are converted from the Islamic Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar