Esfahan is a beautiful city to go browsing for Persian rugs. This old capital city of Persia is home to one of the biggest bazaars in the world, and in this bazaar there is a large area devoted to rugs. The rugs are spectacular. There is a mix of city rugs and nomad rugs. The city rugs are made in big cities like Esfahan, and also smaller towns such as Nain, about 130kms east of Esfahan. The rug design takes up a quarter of the rug and is repeated four times to create the whole rug. The art requires exact copies, and mimics the intricate symmetry of mosque design. The silk rugs shimmer with brilliant colours. Other rugs are a mix of silk and wool and cheaper rugs are made of wool. Most are made by hand. The patterns sometimes include animals or depict scenes of legends, but traditional 'mosque' designs appear to be more common. Colours can be deep red, dark blue, sky blue, cream, salmon pink, yellow and light green. Darker colours are usually put together, but dark blue with cream is also popular. Light colours are more delicate and subtle - more suited to wall hangings than floor coverings.
The other type of rug follows the nomad style. There are apparently 7 main nomad groups in Iran. The group closest to Esfahan is called the Baktiari and another group which moves between Shiraz and Esfahan is known as the Kashgai. Only about one million nomads still live their traditional lifestyle (many have moved to the cities), and Iranian and global demand for rugs exceeds traditional supply. This means that about 80% of nomad style rugs are not made in the traditional way. The nomads traditionally do everything. Not only do they weave the rug but also gather the wool, make the dyes from vegetation, and construct the looms. They weave bread rugs (for making bread and using as tablecloths), prayer rugs, saddlebags for camels, salt bags, flour bags, and suitcases. Daughters learn from their mothers and carry the designs in their heads. This means that designs always vary slightly - there is an individual stamp on every design. This is very different from the precision of the city rugs. The nomad groups can be identified by their different designs. The designs can be geometric and some are Zoroastrian - the traditions of rug-making predate Islam. Nomad style rugs are often rusty red, diluted blue, or various colours of camel hair. The colours are less brilliant and more natural.
All in all, Esfahan is a rug aficionado's delight... a shame rugs are so hard to lug behind bicycles!