Woven carpets are traditionally crafted in North Africa and many parts of Asia (usually known as oriental carpets) along the Silk Road, where they can be bought at a lower cost than in high-income countries. Carpets are often strongly associated with Islamic cultures due to their tradition of producing prayer rugs.
|“||Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon another site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place nearhand or distant many a day's journey and difficult to reach.||”|
Traditional woolen carpets are woven from wool on a hand loom.
Silk carpets are usually small and quite expensive for their size. They much are less durable than wool carpets, so typically they are hung on a wall, but they can also be placed in a low-traffic area of floor. It is also common to use silk for highlights in a wool carpet; the silk wears better in this case because it is protected by the surrounding wool.
Beware of "art silk", cotton that has been chemically treated (mercerized) to give it a silk-like sheen; this is fine at the right price, but some dealers try to sell it at silk prices.
Carpets are heavy. If you plan to bring home a large carpet, be sure to check flight baggage allowance.
Turkey is rightly famous for its carpets, with rich regional varieties. Carpet weaving is often associated with the tradition of the Yörüks, nomadic Turkish clans which roamed (or, in a few cases, are still roaming) Anatolia for centuries.
- Istanbul — The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Sultanahmet has the richest collection of carpets in the world, with the oldest pieces in exhibit dating back to the 15th century. With many carpet shops, you may also want to have a stroll through the nearby Grand Bazaar, although this will inevitably be a touristy experience.
- Hereke — The huge carpets bedecking Istanbul's newer and European influenced palaces, which date back to the late years of the Ottoman Empire, came from this town's imperial factory, opened in 1841 and now a museum. Often dubbed the 'Ottoman Baroque', the style of the Hereke carpets differed from that of traditional designs.
- Bergama — No trip to ancient Pergamon is complete without visiting one of the many local carpet shops, which have regional products on offer. Decidedly away from the tourist trail, nearby Sındırgı is (relatively speaking) known for its Yağcıbedir rugs, honoured by an annual festival.
- Uşak — A major centre of carpet weaving since the 11th century, producing some of the finest Oriental rugs. The export to Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries was such a big business in this Western Anatolian town that its name, or rather its Anglicized form of Ushak, was a synonym for all Anatolian rugs, regardless of their origin.
- Milas — Taking full advantage of its Yörük roots and its proximity to Bodrum, one of Turkey's most favourite resorts with international holidaymakers, most travellers to the Turkish southwest will be familiar with this variant.
- Konya — The capital of the Seljuk Empire, preceeding the Ottomans, is famous with the style named after that empire. Mevlana Museum in the old town has a collection of the Seljuk carpets, mentioned by Marco Polo in 1292.
Persian carpets are one of Iran's leading cultural exports. The country has a history of carpet-making that spans 2,500 years.
- Tabriz — Tabriz rugs reached their zenith in the 12th-16th centuries.
- Kashan — renowned for its silk carpets.
- Heris — Heris/Heriz rugs often have bold, geometric designs.
- Isfahan and the nearby town of Na'in — famously finely-woven rugs
Garden carpets are a common design for the Bakhtiari tribe in the Shiraz region, and are sometimes made elsewhere as well. They are divided into many squares, each with its own design.
See Turkmenistan#Rugs for the main source of these, but neighboring countries, especially Iran but also Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, also have some Turkoman people and rugs. They are sometimes called Bokhara rugs because that city was once a center for their trade. In most cases red is the dominant colour and the pattern includes repeated elements called guls.
India and Pakistan produce many rugs that are also marketed as "Bokhara", using designs derived from Turkoman ones. Some of these are quite fine rugs, but they are not as valuable as real Turkoman carpets.
Historically, the Baluchis were a group of tribes, mainly nomadic, spread across parts of what are now Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. In the past few centuries many have settled in villages or cities. In the 19th century much of their territory was conquered by the British Raj; that part is now the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Today, the rugs are mostly sold in Herat or Mashad.
Baluchi rugs reflect the nomadic heritage; there are almost no Baluchi carpets larger than about 5x7 feet since big ones can be woven only on huge looms, not on the ones nomads can move from camp to camp. Baluchi prayer rugs, just large enough for one person to kneel on and usually with either a tree-of-life or an an arch design, are quite common.
Afghanistan has both Turkoman and Baluchi minorities and their rugs are widely available. There are also sometimes rugs imported from Iran, Pakistan or Central Asia. However, most rugs in the country will be in the distinct Afghan style.
Afghan rugs are generally similar to Turkoman carpets, mainly red in colour and with guls a major design feature, but typically they are less finely woven and cheaper. Large rugs and large guls are fairly common; dealers describe one Afghan design as an "elephant foot" carpet.
The Uyghurs of Xinjiang are culturally more similar to Central Asians than to the Han Chinese, and there is a long tradition of carpet weaving among them. The cities of Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan in particular are known for their fine Uyghur-style carpets that have been traded along the Silk Road for centuries.
As usual for craft shopping, items are cheaper in the small towns where they are made than in cosmopolitan cities.
Haggling is customary for these kinds of affairs.
Do not be fooled into thinking a carpet might be a valuable antique just because it looks somewhat worn. Rugs are routinely spread out on roads in Iran to be "aged" by the traffic, and there are other bogus "aging" methods as well.