Interesting Stories of Rugs

  The first carpet of which there is any authentic record is the one that was taken by the Arabs in 637 A. D. from the winter palace of the Persian or Sassanian Kings at Ctesiphon on the Tigris River eighteen or twenty miles from Bagdad. The exact date of its manufacture is not known, but it was made for Khoaru I, who was a contemporary of the Greek Emperor Justinian and whose reign lasted from 531 to 579. In the East the gardens are divided into square and oblong plots surrounded by a wide border. These plots are intersected by paths, some of which serve to carry the water by which the garden is irrigated. Frequently these shallow irrigating ditches are paved with tiles. This earliest of carpets was intended to bring into the winter home of the King the illusion of a Persian garden in the full beauty of springtime. The materials were costly; silk, gold, silver and precious stones were employed. It was of colossal size. The flowers in the border and plots, were in many colours, red, blue, yellow, white, and green and were made of precious stones. The stalks and stems were of gold and silver. The yellow colour of the soil was imitated in gold, and crystal-clear stones represented the flowing water. The gravel paths were made of precious stones and pearls and the fruit of gems. It was valued at $775,000. The Arab Commander-inchief consulted his armies as to the disposition of this gigantic carpet, and it was agreed to send it to Medina for the residence of the Caliph Omar. It was accordingly sent, but instead of keeping it or giving it as an offering to some sacred mosque, he included it with the other treasures from Ctesiphon in the booty of the army and, contrary to all expectation, ordered it to be cut into separate pieces and divided among the soldiers, and it was thus lost to the world. Fortunately a happier fate awaited the famous Mosque of Ardebil carpet which was made in 1535 for the mosque whose name it bears. After a period of prolonged wars and struggles in Persia Shah Ismail came to the throne in 1502. Persian historians delight to dwell upon his character for they deem him not only the founder of a dynasty, but the one who established as a national religion the true faith of the Prophet. He is styled the King of Shahs and during his reign tranquillity and peace were restored to the country and the arts were revived. His ancestors were regarded as holy men, some as saints, and the mosque of Ardebil was built near their tombs, that of his father being specially venerated as he was slain at Shirvan in an attempt to avenge the capture and death of his father; hence he was regarded as a martyr as well as a saint. The Mohammedans have in the Koran almost an exact translation of the tenth verse of the sixteenth Psalm, “Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy One to see corruption,” and they believe that the bodies of those who have lived the life of a Holy devotee will be miraculously preserved from decay. The tombs therefore of such men are much venerated, and frequently mosques are built over or in the same inclosure with them. Pilgrimages aree made to them and miracles of healing are believed to be wrought by bringing the sick to pray at these holy places. I have frequently seen the sick carried on litters to these shrines; at the head of the tomb (usually a walled-in mound) stands one or more cypress trees, the lower branches of these trees will be covered with narrow strips of cloth tied into them by the pilgrims in the full faith that whatever they wish for when they tie on this bit of rag will be granted in the near or distant future, according as there are few or many knots made in fastening it to the tree, yet there must be sufficient to hold, for it would be fatal to their desires if this bit of rag should blow away. The graves at Ardebil were such as these, sacred places, and to honour them the mosque was built by Ismail. It was, however, in the reign of his son and successor Tamasp that the famous carpet was made. At the time of its manufacture it was deemed the most remarkable product that had ever come from the weavers’ loom, and those who have looked upon it after the lapse of four centuries will, I am sure, readily accord it this high meed of praise. It was this carpet which during the reign of Queen Elizabeth nearly  caused a diplomatic rupture between England and Persia. The Queen sent an envoy to the Persian Goverment, and he was so offended by what he considered the insulting treatment he received that he was about to go away without delivering his message. The cause of all the trouble was a pair of slippers that were sent to him with the request that he put them on over his shoes when he entered the mosque before stepping upon the sacred carpet. This he interpretedto mean that this Christian feet must not touch the holy carpet, and did not realize that it was (and is to this day) the custom in the Orient to either remove the shoes or cover them with slippers upon entering  a mosque, not because the feet are those of a Christian, but to prevent the sacred place from being polluted by the dirt and dust that might adhere to the shoes worn in the street, and that Mohammedans as well as Christians are required to remove their shoes upon entering a mosque. The ground is a rich blue, covered with a floral tracery of exquisite delicacy. In the centre there is a large medallion of pale yellow, its outer edge terminating in sixteen minaret-shaped points, connected with which by a leaf-like design are sixteen small medallion-shaped figures which represent the seed pod of the wild Persian rose cut in half; four are red, four green, and eight cream. From two of these figures on either side are suspended two mosque lamps which hang in each end of the carpet (two such lamps of almost indentical design belonging to J. Pierpont Morgan are to be seen in an adjacent room). The crowning point of interest is the pale cream cartouche just within the border; on one end it contains the following inscription in bold characters. “ I have no refuge in the world other than Thy threshold. My head has no protection other than this porchway. The work of the slave of this Holy place, Maksuod of Kashan, in the year of the Hegira 946 (1540 A. D.)” In the corner are quarter sections of the centre medallion; a narrow band of cimson covered with floral design forms th first of the border series, then comes a band of cream about 7 inches wide containing a variation of the cloud pattern in beautiful shading. The broad or main border is of rich brown in which are set alternating elongated and rounded cartouches filled with floral and geometrical tracery, the former on a red ground, the latter on a green. The outer border is in tan shading fron dark to light, relieved by a bold design in blue. When the carpet brought to England it was in such a tattered condition as to be unmarketable, the borders being so badly damaged. The owner hearing that a duplicate of the same in size and colouring was in Ardebil, had it sent on and, taking from it the border, restored the mosque carpet to its present perfect condition. It was purchased for the South Kensington Museum through the instrumentality of Mr. William Morris. Te second carpet was after some years provided with other and foreign borders and sold to a wealthy American collector. It formed part of the Yerkes collection recently sold in New York.

   In the Kaiser Frederick Museum at Berlin is a carpet of peculiar interest on account of the date of weaving as well as the unusual design. The centre medallion takes up nearly the whole width of the rug and is filled with flying cranes between bands of clouds. This representation of cranes is most unusual in Persian rugs, and suggests Chinese influence. The red ground of the medallion is in exquisite harmony with the white ground of the carpet on which is portrayed a wood filled with all sorts of animals panthers, bulls, stags, jackals etc. The trees are cyprees, medlars, plane, and almond. In the corners, which, alas, have been cut off along with the end borders, are to be seen the lower portion of figures in long garments reaching to the feet, such as are worn today in the East. The shoes worn by these men have soles shaped like the Chinese shoes. In the corners under the figures are three balls, which show the carpet to be very old, for they  are the coat of arms, so to speak, of Timur the conqueror. Gonzalees de Clarijo,who, as Ambassador of the Shah, visited Timur in 1404, noted that his tents, horses, shieelds, and flags all bore these balls, and these insignia were not used by his successors later than about 1535.


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