Symbolism in Antique Rugs

For those who work with antique rugs, the different patterns are more than just reflective of the designer’s wishes. There are important symbols that have been woven into each rug. From Turkish rugs to Persian rugs, to Moroccan, Oriental, and more, the symbolism that is found in every rug reflects the culture of the people.

A rug expert can tell where the rug was created, sometimes down to the town itself thanks to the symbolism. When you learn how to read the symbolism in antique rugs, you can get to know more about the origin, culture, and thinking of the people who created this remarkable product.

Persian or Oriental Rug?

The first step is to understand the differences between the various antique rugs. Of the major types of rugs, there are similarities and strong differences that will help you tell them apart.

Oriental Rugs: These are rugs created in Asia running from the Middle East through India and finally China. The hand-knotted types are a sign of authenticity.

Persian Rugs: Considered the standard by which all other rugs are measured, Persian rugs are part of the Oriental rug family, but only this type of rug is made in Iran.

So, a Persian rug is an Oriental rug, but an Oriental rug is not necessarily a Persian rug. Once you know the difference, then you can examine the different parts of the rug.

The Parts of the Rug

A typical rug is made up of several parts that are woven together to form a whole. The symbolism can be found in any part of the rug depending on the creator and where they live. The different parts include the following;

  • Field: This is the background of the rug
  • Main Borders: The main border is the outside section which is usually wide.
  • Guard Border: This is the thin section on the inside of the main border.
  • Corner Brackets: These fit the corners of the run inside the guard boarder.
  • Medallion: A prominent feature in the center of the rug.

There is usually a motif to every rug, which is an overall pattern found across the parts of the rug or concentrated in the medallion.

You may need an expert to tell you the age of a rug, which is an important buying consideration. Do not let a little dirt or wear fool you in terms of its age.

Moroccan Rugs

The land of northwest Africa is filled with white sand but is also the home to nomadic tribes that have a strong Islamic influence combined with African heritage. While Moroccan rugs are relatively recent, they are distinctive in their shaggy appearance.

While there is only one main type of Moroccan rug, there are many symbols that can be found inside each design.

  • Bird
  • Barley
  • Crab
  • Spider
  • Eye
  • Dragon
  • Frog
  • Finger and More

Oriental Rugs

You’ll find that this type of rug relies on the colors to demonstrate its uniqueness. For Oriental rugs, the colors have the following meaning;

  • White: Purity
  • Red: Wealth, Beauty, Luck, and Faith
  • Blue: Truth, Solitude, and the Afterlife
  • Brown: Fertility
  • Yellow: Power, Glory, and Joy
  • Orange: Humility, Devotion, and Piety
  • Black: Morning or Destruction

Green represents the Prophet Mohammed and is rarely used. Some of the symbols that you’ll find in Oriental rugs include, but are not limited to the following;

  • Boteh: The seed of life and fertility
  • Dragon: Wisdom, power, and good fortune
  • Mihrab: The Paradise Gateway
  • Camel: Endurance, strength, and blessing
  • Lotus: Rebirth and immortality
  • Lily: Purity and spirituality
  • Ram Horns: Male fertility, bravery, and strength
  • Tree of Life: Symbol of immortality and the afterlife
  • Birds: Symbols of good luck

Of the symbols found in Oriental rugs, many are shared in Persian rugs.

Persian Rugs

Because of the complexity and dedication required to create a Persian rug, they are considered the finest of them all. The wool is unique, offering long, durable fibers that are hand woven. The single looping knot used when woven is a trademark of Persian rugs. There are four types of Persian rugs.

  • Boteh: A common pattern in the shape of a tear drop and pear-shaped figure. Symbolizes the garden
  • Gol: Octagon patterns symbolizing the foot of an elephant.
  • Gul: A motif of flowers
  • Herati: A diamond-shape surrounding a floral head with leaves.

Popular symbols found in Persian rugs include a flying eagle, hunting dog, tree of life, lily, lotus, and paradise bird. All of which carry similar meanings as with Oriental rugs.

Turkish Rugs

Since the 13th century, Turkish rugs have been recognized for their unique pattern, beautiful weaving, and durable nature. The different types of Turkish rugs include the following;

  • Kazak: Made in Armenia, plenty of geometric designs
  • Kilim: Flat-weave goat-hair rugs, nearly waterproof
  • Oushak: Made from wool and silk, uses earth tones
  • Soumak: Stronger than Kilim, bright and vibrant colors

The symbolism on Turkish rugs is varied, including many symbols you find on Oriental and Persian rugs. They include the following;

  • Stars: Stars affect the destiny of people. Seeing a star in a dream is a sign of being happy
  • Pomegranate: Fertility
  • Eye: Wards off evil
  • Fruits: Along with cereals, fruit also symbolizes fertility
  • Trees: Represents regeneration.
  • Ram horn: Health, masculinity, and respect
  • Swastika: In older rugs a swastika which before Nazi Germany was considered a symbol of good luck.

There are many other symbols as well, including some that may not be expected such as the comb which represents cleanliness.

You’ll find many symbols in antique rugs that come from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The symbolism found in Turkish rugs, Oriental rugs, Moroccan rugs, and Persian rugs reflect the culture from which they came. Along with the various animals, creatures, and surroundings that provide a home for the people who make these remarkable rugs.