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The Luri

Luri mother and child 

The Luri (or Lurs) are a nomadic tribe of shepherds inhabiting the valleys of the Zagros Mountains in south-western Iran, a large area they share with other pastoral tribes.

They are believed to be the indigenous peoples of the region; they speak  Iranian dialects: Luri and/or Laki; the first being related to Persian; the latter to Kurdish.

As other nomadic tribes, the Luri are renowned for their beautiful wool carpets: nomadic rugs called the Luri Behbehan rugs, which are made entirely of wool; and the Khorramabad rugs  with predominantly all-over patterns and, often, beautifully braided fringes

Most Luri Behbehan rugs feature bold geometric nomadic motifs, while the Khorramabad rugs often display busier patterns in more restrained colour schemes.

All Luri carpets are made exclusively by women;  men may be only involved in collecting and preparation of materials for the dyeing process.

Antique Luri runner in our collection

‘The story of the Lurs is one of strength and beauty, courage and pride, discrimination and prejudice, humiliation and poverty.
Yet the luster of their weavings shows through the mists of time, like the glint of precious gemstones from beneath a heavy haze of dirt and grime. Long neglected and marginally collected, the weaving of the Lurs can rightfully be claimed to be as elegant, colorful, timeless and striking as that of their better-known neighbors.’

(-) Alluring Luris, Denizens of the Zagros by Patrick Weiler … read here

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The Shahsavan

If the origins of most nomadic tribes in Iran are obscure, the Shahsavan’s are outright confusing.

It is said that centuries ago, just like the Qashqai, they migrated to Iran from Anatolia (present day Turkey); the Shahsavan are in fact Turkic peoples.  

However, unlike the Qashqai, who settled in the highlands of the south west (the Zagros), the Shahsavan chose the fertile steppes of the Mogan and Ardabil districts of eastern Azerbaijan. 

There many other theories, some documented, suggesting their central Asian, or Caucasian origins. It is also believed they might be historically Kurdish.

The Shahsavan are nomads, but in contrasts to other nomadic groups of the region, their life-style is almost sedentary; they are spared the long and 
arduous seasonal migrations. 

Their occupations are similar to those of other tribes; they trade in  livestock, but, in the Western world, they are famous for their stunning rugs and flat-woven soumaks[1].

Shahsavan mafresh 

Their works in many styles and intricate designs show the most remarkable skills and seemingly unlimited imagination.

Shahsavan mafresh 

The works of the Shahsavan weavers are perhaps the most coveted collectibles.


Shahsavan pile runner  

[1] a rug distinguished by a flat, pileless surface and loose threads at the back.

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The Bahtiari

The Bahtiari tribe constitutes the largest tribal group in Iran; a third of them being nomadic. The sedentarized Bahtiaris live in villages within Chahar Mahal and Bahtiari Province near Isfahan where they produce some of the best-known carpets in the style and designs which are popular,easily recognizable and collectible.

Classic Bahtiari Tile Garden of Paradise rug

The Bahtiari’s roots however are further south, in the Zagros mountains and in fact some of the  finest Bahtiari rugs, predominantly antique ones, originate from the south west Iran.  If you are an aspiring collector, be on the look-out for Bahtiari rugs with wool foundation. It is wool foundation that distinguishes antique tribal Bahtiari rugs from more commercial Chahar Mahal ones; invariably set on the cotton warps and wefts.

Bâr is an arduous seasonal migration along ancient Bahtiari mountains routes called col

The life-style of the Bahtiari nomads is somewhat similar to that of other south-western tribes and evolves around seasonal migration (called bâr).

In the spring, the Bahtiari clans abandon the plateaus of the mainland and move to the hillsides of the Zagros seeking better climate and vegetation.

Bârs are extremely arduous. ‘The nomads suffer frequent accidents and losses of livestock when they clamber over snow-covered cols, ancient  Bahtiari  mountain routes, and through rock-encumbered gorges and when they either swim or float on rafts held up with inflated goatskins across the Kārūn and other raging rivers at the time of the snow-melt.’ [1]

The works of the sedentarized Bahtiaris frequently show a strong urban influence. While many of their rugs retain their tribal character, they often resemble the more sophisticated atelier works including those with curvilinear motifs within the medallion and niche/corners designs.


Interested in more articles on the Bahtiari nomads? Read the article below:
Why Iran’s Nomads are Fading Away (National Geographic) or … click here

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The Afshar

The Afshar people are descendants of Turkic clans from central Asia.
Over the centuries,  they migrated settling down in the areas from the Caucasus to the plateaus of southern Iran.

‘ … , the Afshar are perhaps the oldest of the Turkic tribes. They are scattered now into most areas around Iran, with the largest concentration in western Kerman province. Their lifestyle has remained largely the same for 1000 years.’[i] They are famous for exquisite rugs in a wide range of designs.

[i] Parvis Tanavoli On Afshar Rugs  By Jim Adelson

As of the more recent census, the largest concentrations of the Afshar tribes in the county’s are north west, with small communities inhabiting Iran’s north east (Khorasan) and some in the Kerman province. Each of these regional groups produce distinct work of weaving arts.

Just like many Persian nomadic tribes of Turkic origin, the Afhar are tent-dwellers. Their primary occupation is sheep husbandry and handicraft such as many ornamental weavings: saddlebags (khoorjin), salt bags (namakdan) and flat-weaves (jajim, ghelim) better known in the West as kilims.[1] They are however best known for their superb carpets in an array of eclectic designs.

Afshar carpet with Sultan Zili motifs 

Perhaps not the largest but certainly bettern known and more prolific concentration of the Afshar clans is in the Kerman province, Baft being their central marketplace.

Shahr Babak in our collection

Their best-known carpets in fact are made by and tribeswomen[i] in southern Iran’s Kerman and Hormozgan provinces.

[i] Tanavolia observed that “women do all the work; men sit around and smoke.”

Afshar Sirjand Carpet 

Most Afshar carpets display stylized geometrical patterns in a wide range of colours. Their designs may be unpredictable and eclectic.
They are valued world-wide as quality tribal artifacts.

Some Afshar rugs resemble Khamseh works, and often in fact are mistaken for such. Here is a priceless advice from Jim Adelson

Antique Afshar

‘According to Opie, “Woolen warps and wefts predominate in Afshar work until cotton was adopted in the 1930s. Wool warps are almost invariably ivory in color, though minor admixtures of darker wool or goat hair are occasionally found. . . . Wefts are commonly dyed red, sometimes with a decidedly orange tinge which distinguishes them from Khamseh work.” ‘

When on the look-out for an antique Afshar rug, a number of considerations out to be made. Most Afshar rugs on today’s market are very well made; they are typically colourful with wool being soft and shiny.

The patterns of Afshar rugs are also quite eclectic. They will typically be hand-knotted (Ghiordes knot) on white cotton foundation. 

The older Afshar rugs (pre-1930[1]) are all wool and perhaps these early 20th century rugs should be considered when investing in tribal rugs.

Early 20th century all-wool Afshar

The above-featured rug, displays a very old pattern, the French Rose (gϋl frange)  popular in Persian from late 19th century onward.

c. 1880 all-wool Afshar bag face

[1] Both the Afshar and the Bahtiari (independently) adopted cotton as their preferred foundation material around the 1930s

Here is another example of a pre-1930s Afshar rug is small pushti (pillow) format from a private collection.


[1] The Turkish name kilim is widely adopted in the Western world in reference to hand-woven tribal textiles, the names of which vary from ghelim  in Iran or mandour in Morocco. The origin of the name kilim or ghelim may be traced  back to ancient Aramaic where the word ghalim denotes a blanket. 

Quotations about Afshars from Parvis Tanavoli On Afshar Rugs by Jim Adelson

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The Qashqa’i

Their carpets are praised and recognized around the world, but who are the their makers?

The Qashqai are Turkic peoples said to have once abandoned Anatolia and later settled in southwestern Iran.  Now, and for nearly a millennium, they roam between the pastures in the Zagros mountains near Shiraz and their winter camps in the Persian Gulf.

Each year, with the coming of winter, the tribe and their flocks leave the mountains and tread their ancestral routes to reach the warmer plateaus near the seaside.  The trying journey takes over a month; it covers nearly 500 miles, but this is their very way of life.

Winter in the Zagros mountains 

Their Turkic origins are evidenced in their language; the Qashqai speak a Turkic dialect which is foreign to the Fars, the indigenous peoples of the region. Their heritage and the Anatolian roots may be also seen  in their arts: songs, dances; but nowhere are their origins more manifest than in their world -renowned tribal rugs.

Not only in fact do the Qashqai artists draw on motifs, bold geometric designs, borrowed from ancient Anatolian traditions, but in their weaving, they continue to use the so-called Ghiordes knot, a symmetrical knot named after a city in central Anatolia and used primarily in today’s Turkey.

The Qashqai live off their stock:  they sell goat meat and goat’s milk; sheep’s wool and above all, their beautiful carpets. The latter are often referred to as Shiraz carpets as they are sold, mostly, at Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz city’s centre.

The Qashqai know their trade; the wool from the sheep raised in the highlands is luscious; their weaving skills are unparalleled.  

Their carpets in staple designs, often triple-lozenge pole medallions, broach the tribal simplicity with designer quality elegance. As such they have been popular locally in Iran and beyond.

More often than other nomadic tribes, the Qashqai use zoomorphic (animal) imagery in their designs. This tradition may be rooted in the primeval times and the tribe’s shamanic past.

Qashqai carpets have been long known on the markets in Europe and the USA; but more recently, a more primitive and rougher nomadic rug has been gaining popularity among the interior designers and consumers alike: a gabbeh.

These often simplistic long-piled rugs have rarely meant to be sold and sold abroad to boot; they are  made as utilitarian objects for the nomads; simple tent furnishings.

It is however the gabbeh that provides the Qashqai artists with a platform for unrestrained artistic expression. As such the gabbehs have become the diaries of the Qashqai nomadic life challenging the intricate and canonical designs of the more commercial Shiraz carpets with its primeval symbolism and personal accents.

Qashqai gabbeh 

Life is colour’, says a tent school teacher in the acclaimed 1996 Iranian film Gabbeh; and while the Shiraz carpets may seem consistently limited to but a few earthy and mainly dark colours, the gabbehs display an unlimited array of splendid tones reflective of the countryside along their journeys.

The modern Qashqai, nearly 400 000 of them; some settled,semi-nomads; and others still faithfully pursuing their ancient traditions, face many challenges. The Iranian regime perceives them as unassimilated and backward.

Contemporary Qashqai gebbeh in our collection

Progress continues to have an impact of their lifestyle; the newly built highways, for instance, often cross their ancestral routes forcing them thus, each year, to walk longer and further. The several economic embargoes imposed on Iran, indirectly, cut them off the international markets.

Qashqai woman with a child

The Qashqai are nomads: their history and identity are reflected in the art of carpet weaving; Qashqai carpets are unique, recognizable and recognized worldwide.


 Tour the wonderful world of the Qashqa’i 

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