Geoffrey Fox

Reflections & Inquiries

In Iran, 5: Weaving a culture


This is a continuation of the series, “10 Days in Iran,” on our 12-person tour with The Nation magazine. For the earlier notes, click on “Previous” at the bottom of this page or go to Day 1 here.

On Monday, September 10, we arrived at the modest but quite comfortable Manoucherie Hotel in  Kashan   کاشان, a city of about 400,000 in Isfahan province, famous for many things:  its pottery and tiles, already highly prized in the 14th century; its proximity to Mount Gargash and Iran’s largest astronomical observatory and to the even higher Mount Ardehaal, to the southwest and west; and to the east, the opening to the central desert, with its salt lake, caravanserai, and the Shifting Sands which are a popular vacation destination. However our main interest was to see the production of its equally famous carpets  and other textiles.


As i mentioned in my report on Day 1 , our very first stop in Iran even before reaching our hotel, had been the Carpet Museum (see link below). Long before the 1979 revolution and all that followed made the country famous for other things, Iran’s greatest fame in the West was for its carpets — already celebrated by Xenophon in 400 BC.  In the following centuries, Persian carpets were prized by rulers from China to Byzantium and as coverings for sacred relics in the great churches of Europe. With the advent of Islam (after the Muslim conquest, AD 1651) the thick, pile carpets with their elaborate non-figurative designs became ubiquitous in mosques and the palaces of Muslim rulers far beyond Persia, their production imitated in Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan and beyond.

Carpets and the art and act of weaving have been celebrated in literature and folklore, even far beyond the reach of Persia’s famous carpets. I’m thinking, for example, of the ponchos and tunics and other works of the peoples of the Andes. And weaving has, from the very beginnings, been a metaphor of healing, of putting things together, of bringing order to a disordered world. And this has been one of the functions of the Persian carpets.

But do they really fly? Yes, I believe they do. Like the famous wooden horse Clavileño that transports Don Quijote and Sancho Panza to the palace of the evil giant, such carpets can carry you to places you have ony scarcely imagined. All that you must do is stare long enough at their intricate designs and colors and enter, with fingers or with gaze, their deep and exquisite textures, until slipping through the barrier of our mundane pedestrianness. And off you go.

That is, of course, if you believe.————————————————————————————————
Here are some links if you are eager to fly:

Some exceptionally fine photos of the city (text in French): Kashan in Iran
A history of Persian carpets
Carpet Museum of Iran for more pictures and videos
A reflection on “Weaving us back together”


The Flying Carpet, 1880 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov