top of page

History of Oriental Rug Design

There are many different artistic designs used in traditional oriental rugs. The art of weaving dates back many centuries, and designs used in the rugs have been passed down from generation to generation, shared among neighboring tribes and groups, and changed for the tastes of new generations. Still, many common designs have stood the test of time, and are considered "classic" for their style and elegance. Here are some pictures and descriptions of many of the common designs found in Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan.

Kurdish designs from Iran


Diamond shaped medallions with the Herati (fish) pattern are indicative of Bijar rugs. Usually woven between 250 and 400 knots per inch, the pile is incredibly dense and strong, leading to their common nickname of the "Iron rugs of Persia". Bijars are considered some of the highest quality, longest lasting rugs in the world.

Bijar (Gol farang)

Gol farang translates "foreign flower". These floral Bijar carpets were first made for the European markets in the 19th century. They are woven with exquisite detail and many colors. Some variations have bright red roses in the field or the border.


Made in a village north of Bijar, and featuring strong geometric medallions, bright colors, and a very tight weave, Goltaug rugs are only woven in smaller sizes. They are very popular as accent pieces.


Sanandaj (Senneh) is the capital of Kurdistan. Senneh rugs show yet another variation of the bold medallions so often used by the Kurds. Senneh rugs also have a different variation of the herati pattern.

Tribal Persian Designs


Hamadans are high quality tribal rugs with soft and durable wool. They are more loosely woven than other rugs from the region, but very soft underfoot, and fairly inexpensive.


Heriz is a design produced by the city of Heriz, and the villages surrounding it, in Northwestern Iran. Carpets from Heriz are generally woven with a heavy, hand-spun yarn, tied coarsely at about 40 to 80 knots per inch. This knot count works well, because the designs do not lend themselves to a finer knot count. These carpets are very heavy and strong, often quite thick in the pile. In recent years, many Heriz carpets are being chemically washed in order to fade their strong colors.


These carpets come from the far Northwest of Iran, very near the Russian Caucasus. As a result, they have influences from both Azerbaijani and Caucasian designs. The Caucasian influence can be seen in the bold medallions, as seen in the sample picture. Another design feature of Karajah carpets is the presence of many figures of animals, people, and symbols in the field of the rug. This is also common in carpets from Ardebil (Azerbaijan).


Produced by the Luri tribespeople, Yallameh carpets are a fine example of exquisite tribal weaving. These carpets are woven on home looms, and therefore are generally small, only up to about 6.5' X 9.5'. They are woven in both earth tones and jewel tones. All of these carpets will have medallions as pictured, with the colors alternating among the medallions. Another variation of this design is the "panel" design, where each medallion is enclosed in its own frame, stacked up across the rug like tiles. Yallameh carpets are generally higher priced, because the production is so small. Large pieces are hard to find.

Formal Persian Designs


Kashan is a city in Central Iran, famous for producing high quality carpets in formal designs. The two examples shown demonstrate the common themes present in Kashan carpets: A balanced design, large floral patterns, and a central medallion. Some Kashan carpets have no medallion.


Detached floral sprays in an open field help define the Sarouk design. Sarouks most often have a red or pinkish background. These carpets were extremely popular in the 1920's, although the original colors were too light for the American market. At that time there were factories in Europe where the carpets were shipped in their original lighter colors, and then painted over with richer darker colors. We often see these "painted sarouks" today, handed down through the family for three or more generations.


Meshed is the central weaving city in Northeastern Iran. Famous for its many Muslim shrines, Meshed is also known for its carpets, which are very formal. Most Meshed carpets have a deep wine colored (almost purple) field, and a central medallion, usually with sixteen points symmetrically distributed around the medallion. Several famous workshops produce fine carpets there, including Khazekhan, and Astan Ghotz. The Astan Ghotz workshop is part of the most famous Muslim shrine in Iran, and produces the finest Mesheds. These carpets are very rare and valuable. The Meshed pictured is one of these fine carpets, and is in a private collection.


Isphahan is one of the most famous rug weaving cities in all of Iran. Many people think of Isphahan carpets when they think of Persian rugs. Isphahans are generally woven with the finest of materials, Kurk (lamb's) wool on silk or fine cotton foundations, usually woven at 600 or more knots per inch. Designs are very ornate, with meticulous attention to detail. Isphahan carpets are usually quite expensive. Our store takes its name from one of the most famous carpet weavers from the city of Isphahan. An original Serafian 3' X 5' carpet today might sell for $20,000 or more.


The city of Nain began producing fine carpets sometime around 1940. Nain carpets are characterized by ivory fields, with blues, browns, and tans to create an intricate design. Finer Nain carpets can be woven at 600 or more knots per inch, with silk inlay. The carpet pictured is a very fine Habibian Nain, woven at 730 knots per inch on a three ply cotton foundation. Recently many cheap "production" carpets have been produced in Iran to look like Nains (in Nain colors and design), but are very coarsely woven, and often are only tufted instead of knotted. Exercise caution, and know what you are buying when shopping for any Nain carpets.


Tabriz, in Northwestern Iran is one of the most famous rug producing cities. The classical Tabriz designs are the "Mahi" (fish) design, and the "Naghche", (floral) design. Pictured is a fine example of a Mahi tabriz, woven at 400 knots per inch, with a silk inlay. Notice the repeating pattern in the field of the rug. This is a variation of the Herati (also meaning fish) design. These are very fine and popular carpets in the US. There are also many lower grade carpets produced in Tabriz. The finest pieces are woven at 800 or more knots per inch on silk foundations, and can be found in very large sizes, upwards of 20' X 26'.

Afghani Designs

Turkoman (Bokhara)

Bokhara is one of the most popular and common Oriental rug designs seen in the United States. The design originated with the Turkoman tribes in Northern Afghanistan and Southern Turkmenistan. There are 23 different Turkoman tribes, and each tribe has its own unique signature design. The predominant design feature of a Turkoman carpet is the gul (flower). This is the repeating eight-sided medallion seen in the field of the rug. Each tribe has different designs that it uses in the gul. This is how we identify where true Turkoman carpets were woven. In recent years these distinctions are not as clear as they once were, with designs from one tribe showing up in other areas. Also, the basic design shown above has been copied in Pakistan for about thirty years. These mass produced rugs are the common Bokharas found in many American homes. Pakistani Bokharas are generally very soft to the touch, and not as durable as true Afghani Bokaras. The example shown is a very fine piece from the Tekke tribe, woven in kurk (lamb's wool) on a fine gold wool foundation at 400 knots per square inch.


These reproductions were first introduced by a man named Khal Mohammed over twenty years ago. He established a cottage industry in one region in northern Afghanistan, providing the patterns, looms, and wools to the villagers who weave them. These rugs are always vegetable dyed, giving them nice warm earthtones, with rich reds and oranges, deep blacks and navies, and warm golds and greens.



The Belouchi are nomadic sheepherders who range throughout Western Afghanistan and Eastern Iran. Weavings range from coarse to very fine. Most of the rugs they weave are prayer rugs, as shown in the example. This piece is a very common design known as the "Tree of Life". The finest Belouchi weavings are made by the Koudani tribe.

bottom of page