Unraveling The Chahar Bagh Rug and Persian Garden History
Several types of handwoven rugs can be found all over the world. Many people are familiar with the terms “Persian rugs” or “oriental rugs”. However, there are many different types of Persian rugs. The Chahar bagh rug (Charbagh), or “garden rugs”, refers to area carpets with a specific Persian style garden design layout. This specific rug design pattern has existed for thousands of years and is known as a favorite among collectors.
Origins Of the Chahar Bagh Rug Design
The term “Chahar Bagh” translates literally to ‘four gardens.’ The layout of these rugs reflects a specific Iranian garden format. This garden form dominated the Persian garden scene from around 600 AD and can still be seen in the area today. However, the origins of Chahar Bagh actually date back to the mid-6th century BC in Cyrus the Great’s palace garden at Pasargadae.
Charbagh gardens focused on water and irrigation due to the arid climate of the area they originate from (present-day Iran). These layouts were geographic in nature, with strong symmetry. A fountain or water source would be located at the center of the garden, with the water separating into four different canals. These canals were designed in right angles and moved to divide the garden into four separate beds. These four beds represent four elements; sky, earth, plants, and water.
The Chahar Bagh Garden Form
The Chahar Bagh form spread rapidly throughout the eastern world until the 18th-century. Chahar Bagh gardens could be created anywhere, from a small courtyard to extensive royal palace grounds. Gardens with the four quadrant design can also be found over a vast distance, from Spain through the Middle East and India. As Persians and Muslims moved across Asia, the gardens were adapted to fit local needs, but the basic design features stayed the same.
The spread of this garden layout and the spread of Islam went hand-in-hand. The four-garden designs were adopted by Muslim invaders, as they were viewed as a representation of the garden of Paradise (described in the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an). References are also made to a garden of Paradise, or Eden, in the Christian bible. This garden form’s symbolism has roots in three of the world’s larger religions – Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Chahar Bagh as a Rug Pattern
The garden imagery, particularly the Chahar bagh rug pattern, is well represented in Persian poetry and art. The Persian carpet weavers masterfully showed the Persian garden’s symmetry and beauty in their handwoven rugs.
Representations of Persian gardens in carpets combine a bird’s-eye view of the traditional four‑part garden with the addition of birds and trees. Garden rugs can be classified into three groups according to their designs:
4 Quadrant Chahar Bagh Rugs With Directional Landscapes with Trees
This group depicts dark tree imagery. This design’s variant is the Indian floral lattice group, which features a trellis-type design with several types of flowering trees, shrubs, and plants.
Paradise Park Chahar Bagh Rugs
Figures of birds and animals are added into the landscape to create a “Paradise Park.”
Formal Chahar Bagh Carpets
This design features a formal, walled garden separated by pathways and water canals into four (or more plots). These plots are filled with flowers, trees, and a variety of animals.
The Antique Chahar Bagh Rugs
The earliest known references to a garden carpet are to the ‘Spring Of Khosrow Carpet,’ which was made for the 7th-century Sassanian emperor, Khusrow. This rug was rumored to be extremely large and very beautiful, crafted from silk, precious stones, and gold and silver threads. The Spring Carpet depicted a garden with trees, pathways, and blossoming flower beds.
Aside from the few distinct Safavid rugs of the late 16th/ early 17th-century, all other examples of this type of carpet were made during the 18th-century. These carpets were woven in wool on a cotton or wool foundation. All of these carpets were manufactured in workshops in northwest Kurdistan, but production died out by the early 19th-century. By the early 20th-century, there were only a small number of 18th-century Kurdish pieces still in existence.
In 1937, a Chahar bagh carpet was found in the Maharajahs of Jaipur’s abandoned palace at Amber Fort. Knotted in the Safavid way, this antique rug shockingly had records on a label attached to the lining and notes written directly on the lining itself. This inscription provided a short description of the carpet along with the date “29 August 1632.”
The Jaipur carpet is extremely large, stretching an impressive eight and a half meters long and almost four meters wide. It is extremely finely knotted and made from ivory cotton, fine wool in various colors, and blue and pink silk, which is only found in the best quality carpets. This carpet appears to be produced by a high caliber commercial workshop, most likely as a special order. As one of the oldest examples of this design, the Jaipur rug served as prototype for Kurdistan-based weavers.