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Tribal Rugs: Bring the World into Your Home

A rug is considered tribal if it is produced by a nomadic tribe of people who move from place to place, generally according to the seasons, in order to find shelter and sustenance. Sometimes nomads move in the search of greener pastures for their sheep; other times they move with seasonal work. Their lifestyle, journeys and the landscapes they encounter have great influence on the weavers who make these rugs, most often out of necessity. The material, colors, and design of their creations reflect their needs, dreams and desires as constrained by time and the availability of material and dyes. As such tribal rugs, more than any other type of rug, are inextricably intertwined with the humanity of their creators. 

Tribal rugs draw you into the uniquely intimate world of a global culture that survives and seemingly lives within the weave, knots, and design. Outwardly simple symbols that have ancient meaning are passed down for generations woven into the rustic design. The tribes that make these unique rugs put their people, rituals, beliefs, and secrets into these rugs. Berber, Turk, Azeri, Bakhtiari, Kurd, and Qashqai, are just a few of the countless tribes around the world that produce bold rugs that are practical and meaningful to their people. It is a privilege to have an opportunity to actually own one of these rugs and bring a part of the world into your home.

Tribal Moroccan Berber

Quite possibly the most iconic and recognizable tribal rug is the Moroccan Berber. It is ubiquitous in New York City design show rooms and in homes from California to Kansas, and for good reason. Moroccan rugs fit wonderfully into the decade long interior trend of minimalism. They can add unique character to sparse rooms by virtue of their traditional charm. Their minimal abstract design is what attracts western admirers, but in their country of origin these rugs are a way of life. They are used for floor coverings as well as blankets in the coldest regions of the Atlas Mountains. 

Almost all Moroccan rugs are handmade from start to finish. From shearing the wool, to washing and dying the wool, to weaving the rugs knot by knot, every step of the process is carried out manually. The techniques have evolved over the years, but derive from ancient knotting and weaving methods passed down over centuries from weaver to weaver. 

From the vintage Berber carpets knotted by hand in the Atlas Mountains, to the flat weave tribal rugs, Beni Ourain, Azilal, and Boucherouite rugs, they are all as unique as the country and people.

Tribal Rug from Morocco
Moroccan Handknotted Carpet

Bakhtiari Tribal Rugs

As one might expect, many of the sought after tribal rugs are woven in Iran. The most recognizable of these is probably the Bakhtiari rug.  Tribal rugs hand knotted by the Bakhtiari tribe come in a variety of designs, the most recognizable being the Garden Panel. The design of this rug consists of rows and columns of squares (occasionally diamonds, hexagons, or other repeated shapes). Within the squares one will find plants, animals, and all manner of inspiration from the natural world. 

Bakhtiari rugs tend to be very rich in color, skewing toward deep and dark reds and browns, but with bright touches of green, yellow, and ivory. They are constructed of sturdy wool and usually employ the symmetrical and sturdy Turkish knot. Their beauty and durability is a testament to the artistic sensibilities yet resilience of the Bakhtiar tribe. 

Persian Tribal Rug
Bakhtiar Carpet from Iran

Balouchi Rugs

Balouchi rugs are woven by tribes that roam and occupy eastern Iran and the western borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. The distinct repeated lozenge, and often used dominant blood red background color is the best way to spot a Balouchi rug. Balouchi weavers also use a lot of navy, black, dark brown, and ivory. Using wool and cotton, nomads from this region can take up to 10 months to hand knot one of these rugs. They tend to be smaller in size and are often made specifically for use as prayer rugs. That is why the second most common design in Balouchi rugs is the mehrab, which resembles an archway typically found in a mosque. The density of these rugs range from 90-200 knots per square inch. 

Nomadic Tribal Rugs
Balouch Persian Rug

Gabbeh Rugs

The Persian Gabbeh is a close cousin to the Moroccan Berber when it comes to popularity and use in contemporary interiors. Like the Moroccan, it generally consists of a very simple mostly solid color background and small design elements that resemble children’s drawings. They are so different from traditional Persian rugs. If you spot a Persian rug with a thick pile, a solid background, and brightly colored elemental designs such as stick figures, you’ve likely found a Gabbeh. One of the differences between a Gabbeh and a Moroccan is that the Persian rug has a much tighter weave and a more “groomed” look to the pile.

But don’t be fooled by the simplistic designs of the Gabbeh. The brightly colored small patterns in reds, oranges, maroons, and bright yellows are symbolic to the people who weave these captivating rugs. The romance of these rugs was expressed and immortalized on film by one of Iran’s most important filmmakers Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film, entitled Gabbeh, was a favorite at the Cannes Film Festival and is a must see for anyone who is interested or owns a Gabbeh carpet. 

Nomad Tribal Rugs
Kashkuli Gabbeh rug.

Nomadic Qashqai (or Ghashqai) Tribal Rugs

Qashqai Persian tribal rugs were originally crafted by the nomadic tribe of the same name. The Qashqai people are Turkic and are believe to have arrived to the area in and around Shiraz in the 11th and 12th centuries. Originally nomadic pastoralists who traveled with their herds, they were encouraged to settle in the mid-20th century when the Iranian government built housing for them. They are well known for the beautifully crafted Qashqai rugs, which are woven with unusually soft wool that holds dye remarkably well. Qashqai rugs, sometimes labeled Shiraz because they are sold in the Shiraz marketplace, have brilliant blues and reds. Their designs have evolved from family traditions and tribal history. 

Antique Ghashghaei over 100 years old

Turkish Tribal Rugs

In Turkey, carpet weaving is thought to have been integrated into tribal life sometime in the 11th century. The Seljuk tribes located in what is today a portion of Kazakhtstan are the first Turkish nomads known to learn the art of rug making. Turkish tribes used carpet weaving techniques to make tents, floor coverings, and blankets to protect them in harsh cold winters. 

As in Iran, many of the traditionally nomadic tribes eventually adopted a sedentary lifestyle, but continue to weave rugs with the techniques and designs used by their ancestors. Turkish tribal rugs tend to look more primitive and are less sturdy and symmetrical than their Persian counterparts. The imperfections are part of their appeal. They sometimes use unusual materials like goat or camel hair in the pile. And because the natural dyes used are created in small batches, shade variations occur within the same color woven into one rug. This results in what is termed abrash. For example, a turquoise background can be lighter on one end of the carpet and gradually (or not-so-gradually) grow darker towards the opposite end of the rug. 

Hand Knotted Anatolian Oriental Wool Rug https://images.rugimg.com/2717016/2717016_main.jpg?width=2000&quality=55&height=2000&fit=bounds
Turkish Tribal Rug

Home Decor with Tribal Rugs

The tribal rug trend in home décor has endured since the mid-20th century when travelers began bringing exotic lands they visited home in the form of floor coverings. A tribal rug has the power to bring meaning and sophistication to interiors. These unique carpets can bring a sense of exploration and artistry to an otherwise neutral space. 

The global cultures they represent can add an exotic warmth to minimalist spaces that seem to be the norm everywhere. Homeowners and designers can easily make an ordinary space extraordinary with imperfect pieces from Morocco, Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Often woven with handspun wool and vegetable dyes, they are not only versatile but durable.

PERSIAN RUGS – Exceptional Quality


The history of the “Persian carpet” is rich and storied, dating back 2500 years. The dawn of carpet weaving in the Persian Empire is widely thought to have been during the reign of Cyrus the Great in the 6th Century BC. In fact, historians and folklorists alike have written about the ruler’s passion for rugs. Some even claim his tomb was strewn with countless priceless rugs. Yet it wasn’t until trade routes from European capitals to the Middle East became widely traveled in the 1500s that Persian rugs grew in popularity. The British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese expanded their power by colonizing less developed parts of the world and established trading posts across the Middle East. Iran began trading with the West and European elite began their obsession with Persian floor coverings they considered works of art. Persian rugs were eventually seen as a status symbol by European connoisseurs and their place in the world as a highly sought after asset was solidified. 

Persian Carpet Demand

 The growing popularity of Persian rugs in the 1700s led to foreign investment in what is now Iran’s second most lucrative export (after oil). In the Victorian era, the British penchant for vibrantly colored ornate floral patterns that mimicked their elaborate gardens led to foreign investment in Iran. Outsized European investment in the Persian rug industry led to increased production and demand. The demand for ever larger Persian carpets and the high value place on artistry helped expand the industry further until Persian carpets became the most coveted of all handmade rugs. 

Persian Rugs - Expensive
An antique Kerman over 100 years old, in very good condition valued at over $100,000.

For an idea of just how prestigious and valued Persian rugs are, consider that the most expensive rug ever sold was an antique Persian carpet sold by Sotheby’s in 2013 for $33 million. The astronomical sale astounded even those who have long been in the rug trade. Like works of art produced by the masters, Persian rugs are held in high regard because of the amount of work, artistry, and detail that goes into hand knotting just one rug. 


Persian rugs are not only floor covering but works of art known for their rich natural colors and fantastical designs. They are made with organic wool, silk, and cotton and are dyed with natural coloring. The work and importance placed on high quality at every step of the process is instrumental in adding to the beauty of these rugs. 

Persian rug Paisley Allover pattern
Paisley Allover pattern Persian Kerman rug – Oversized at 11 X 17 – Excellent condition – 250 KPSI

Intricate patterns that have evolved over centuries are a hallmark of Persian rug design. The majority of rugs made in Iran have floral detailing. Flowers and other botanical and natural elements make up the smallest details. However, the way to identify a rug’s town, city, or region of origin, which is how Persian rugs are identified, is to step back and look at the big picture. 

Persian Rug Designs

The center medallion is an uber present feature. Many Persian carpets incorporate a central ornate element, a sort of chandelier of floor covering. Isfahan, Nain, Kashan, Kerman Tabriz, Mashad, are all examples of Persian rugs that very often have a center medallion. Medallions can vary and one of the most discreet and tasteful versions, the Mahi (elongated lozenge), is popular in very fine rugs made in Tabriz. By contrast, the circular or hexagonal medallion with protruding floral points and elements are typical of fine Isfahan and Nain rugs. 

Persian Rug Kashan
A typical Kashan with a center medallion. These rugs are high quality, inexpensive and the choice for many middle class Persians.

The second most prevalent persian rug design is the Allover pattern, so called because a single flower or paisley shape (also called a Boteh) is repeated on the majority of the carpet and framed by a border that esthetically unifies the Allover design. Another common Allover pattern is the Herati, which consists of four leaves for four corners accentuated by other understated floral elements and then repeated all over the rug. 

Heriz and Tribal rugs utilize designs that are more geometric or abstract and look very different from their cousins from other Iran provinces. Yet in fact their base elements evolved from the natural world just like the more ornate Persian designs. Over centuries the rug weaving artists melded the designs created by artisans of the royal court with the designs often seen in practical carpets woven by nomads. The geometric shapes we see in Bakhtiar, Hamadan, Nahavand, and especially Heriz rugs are the product of this progression.


Persian carpets are woven on looms. These frames hold two threads through which the knots are pulled and knotted. The threads held taut vertically are called the warp. The weft runs horizontally weaving in and out through the vertical warp threads. Persian rugs are exclusively made of wool, silk, and cotton. Occasionally, instead of sheep’s wool, camel or goat wool is used, but never synthetic material in hand knotted Persian rugs. The foundation can be made of cotton, sometimes silk. And the weave consists of wool or silk, sometimes both. The width of a Persian rug is determined by the width of the loom, unless two pieces are sewn together.

Persian Carpet Red medallion
A wide Persian rug requires a loom equally wide.

As each knot is made on the loom, the rug begins, ever so slowly to take shape. An image emerges and the feel and density of the rug is determined by the material, tightness (knots per square inch), and the height of the pile. High knot density often signals high quality. The origin of a Persian carpet identifies the rug. Experts and even connoisseurs can identify rugs by looking at the design, material, density, and colors. 

The Persian Knot

One of the unifying elements of Persian carpets is the Persian knot, or asymmetrical knot. Most Persian rugs utilize this knot in which the yarn goes full circle around one warp thread and then is slipped under the adjacent thread before being pulled through to form the pile. This knot can be tighter and is better for intricate design work. Other knots, such as the Turkish or the Jufti knots are tied around two or four warp threads making for larger knots and limited precision in design.

The fineness of a Persian rug is often measured by the number of knots per square inch. Handmade rugs can range anywhere from 16 up to 800 knots per square inch. The rarest and finest ever known have reached up to 3300 KPSI, a feat that can only be achieved with silk threads and a silk foundation. Once the weave of the rug is complete, it is often finished off by creating fringe with the warp end. 


Each Persian carpet is a unique work that takes skill, time, and quality material. The distinct designs also add value, all of which adds to the cost of acquiring handmade Persian decor floor coverings. With online options such as Handknotted.com, consumer prices have declined over the years and are fast challenging the idea that Persian rugs are expensive and out of reach for ordinary customers.

Persian carpet estimate - collectible asset
Persian rugs consistently rise in value making them a collectible asset and investment. This Persian Tabriz is valued around $30,000 and rising.

Yet because of the rare cases that make headlines when fine antique pieces are sold at auction for millions of dollars, some contemporary buyers believe all Persian rugs are expensive. Prices vary according to age, origin, and condition of the Persian rug, and if you’re looking to enhance your home or other interior, you don’t necessarily need to break the bank. In some cases a new or semi-antique Persian rug can seem like a bargain compared to some synthetic mass-manufactured rugs.


How can you tell if a rug is an authentic handmade Persian rug? There are several ways to differentiate between machine made rugs and handmade Persian rugs. The first step is to turn the rug over or flip a corner over and check the back. The back of a rug holds many secrets. Although machine made rugs can be beautiful additions to any space, if you’re looking for an authentic handmade piece, the back will hold the answer. Machine made rugs are generally woven on power looms that create uniform knots. The knots on the back of these rugs look like identical soldiers in an army. There are no variations in size, tightness, or color and everything is completely consistent and even. For authenticity, look for slight imperfections that characterize handmade pieces. Unless you are looking at an extremely fine silk rug with 700 knots or more, which will look remarkably uniform, there will alway be a slight imperfection. 

Authentic Silk Persian Rug
An authentic silk Qom rug with 420 knots per square inch

Another element to check on the back is the design. In authentic Persian rugs the design is just as apparent on the back side as on the front. Actually, the better the quality of the rug, the more beautiful the back is. The more knots per square inch the more delicate and apparent the design is not only on the front, but also on the back of a rug. 

Also, examine the fringe closely.  In handmade pieces, even if the fringe is braided or tied off as opposed to dangling, it will still be a region that extends from the carpet itself, from the warp. Machine made rugs generally use fringes that are completely separate pieces sewn onto the end of the carpet. 

Persian Carpets Shine With Use

In wool rugs, another way to discern authenticity, particularly in vintage and antique rugs, is to look for patina. Over time, the high fatty lanolin content of fine wool will give the rug a lovely patina, or shine. It’s not the shine of silk but an understated glow that develops over time with use.

Persian Rug from Farahan with patina
A large semi-antique Farahan Persian rug with Patina

If you’re still not sure, go with your gut and remember to look for defining features. Machine made rugs are made from so many different materials. Some use wool and cotton, natural fibers, but other materials such as nylon, polyester, and olefin synthetic fibers are more common. Synthetic uniformity suggests machine made. Natural imperfections convey authenticity. 

Related to the question of authenticity is the common phrase “the Persian flaw.” When Iranians use the phrase, the flaw in question is implied to be deliberate. The phrase is believed to originate from the intentional mistakes some weavers incorporated into their rugs. Fusing folklore with religion, the idea was that only God’s creations could be perfect, and so to weave a perfect rug would be an insult to God. Sounds a bit egotistical though—that these weavers believed they were capable of perfection.


Persian rugs are categorized by their city or region of origin. Tabriz rugs hail from Iran’s historic Azerbaijan region nestled in the Quru River valley. It is Iran’s closest hub to Europe and major rug producing region. Isfahan rugs likewise are produced in Isfahan and are known for their beauty and quality. Shah Abbas the Great was an inspired King and a patron of the arts. He moved Iran’s capital to Isfahan and launched an artistic renaissance in the 16th century which gave rise to “The Golden Age of Persian Weaving.”

Kerman rugs  (also spelled Kirman) are generally made in the south central part of Iran known by the same name. It is the name of a city and a province. In the 18th century, rugs made in the Kerman province were renowned as the best in Persia. Likewise Bakhtiar rugs are made by the Bakhtiari tribespeople who roam the Zagros Mountain region. They are famed for their treks through dangerous terrain as well as their earth toned carpets. Their rich-hued works often depict the four seasons the Bakhtiari people have come to respect and mark their migrations.


Largest Persian Rug

The largest rug ever made in the world was made in Iran by the Iran Carpet Company for the Abu Dhabi mosque. It is over 60,000 square feet (5,630 square meters) and was made in nine sections that were then assembled together inside the mosque in 2007.

Largest rug in the world
Assembling the largest Persian rug ever made

Most Expensive Persian Carpet

The most expensive rug ever sold was an antique 17th century Persian rug. According to Sotheby’s the rug is a “sickle-leaf, vine scroll and palette vase-technique carpet” that most likely was made in Kerman. In 2013, it sold for $33 million at auction in London. 

The most expensive carpet ever sold
Most expensive rug ever sold – Sotheby’s $33 million

Magic Carpet

The so-called “Carpet of Wonder” located in Muscat, Oman in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is renowned for size and quality. It took 600 workers four years to construct. A total of 12 million human hours of work went into this wondrous piece.

The Magic Carpet
The Carpet of Wonder

The Finest Persian Rug

The most famous and important rug is considered to be the Ardabil Carpet, which is actually two rugs. The larger rug resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was  restored and reconstructed in the 19th century and is the better preserved of the two. The original date of completion is inscribed on the London rug and the Hijra date corresponds to the years 1539-40. The second smaller rug is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The nearly identical rugs have a gorgeous Tabriz design with a central medallion and intricate unifying floral designs which surround it. 

The finest Persian Rug
The Ardabil Carpet

The truth is you don’t need to be a connoisseur, have $33 million dollars, live in a palace to own and enjoy a beautiful Persian rug. All you need is a sense of appreciation and good taste.