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Visiting the World’s Most Famous Carpet

Posted in: Persian rugs Travel & Sourcing

This past summer, my husband Trenton and I were in London and had the opportunity to view one of the most important carpets ever woven, the Ardabil carpet, which is now housed in London at the Victoria and Albert museum.Buckingham-Palace

We took a stroll over to the museum one morning to view this carpet while staying in the South Kensington neighborhood near the museum. Visiting the Ardabil carpet was certainly on my list of things to do while we were in London and I had anticipated that it would be an impressive carpet especially given my Oriental rug background. To say this historic and artistically impressive rug is even more magnificent in person is certainly an understatement.


In effort to preserve the rich, natural colors of the rug, the museum only lights this carpet for 10 minutes on the hour and half hour. Once we arrived we had a little while to wait in order to view the carpet lit. I sat down and read the history of the Ardabil carpet which while interesting is something that I had read before many times in Oriental rug textbooks. I was surprised to find they had included such interesting historical details like the reasons it was commissioned in the first place and how it found a home at the V&A.

Why this carpet exists:

The Persian Ardabil Shrine Carpet, circa 1539-1540, measures 17. 6 x 34. 6 and is widely considered the most famous and important carpet in the world for its history, craftsmanship and preservation.


Woven during the Safavid Empire, at the time when royal factories had first been established, the most skilled artisans were recruited to weave for the royal court. Oriental rug scholars believe this carpet was made at the height of the Persian carpet weaving as an art form.

The Ardabil carpet has three rows of verse woven into one end. The first two lines read:

‘Except for thy threshold, there is no refuge for me in all the world.

Except for this door there is no resting-place for my head.’

The third line is a signature that reads:

‘The work of the slave of the portal, Maqsud Kashani.

‘Maksud of Kashan’. Maksud was probably the overseer of the royal factory that was responsible for making this amazing work of art, which was originally one of a pair of Oriental rugs commissioned for an important shrine.


Almost 500 years later:

The two Ardabil carpets were still in the shrine in the late 1800’s when an earthquake damaged the shrine. The rugs were sold off possibly to raise funds for reconstruction of the shrine. They were purchased by the famous Zeigler & Co. Sections of the carpet which is not on display at the V&A were used to make the one on display whole after the earthquake.

In 1893, the carpet was purchased by the V&A museum for £2000. The famous designer William Morris encouraged the museum’s acquisition stating that the carpet was of ‘singular perfection’.

Here are a few photos that we took of the rug lit in the museum. It is very difficult the way the rug is displayed to take great photos so I am also including a link to the V&A’s website that includes wonderful photos and a detailed, interesting history of the carpet from the time it was commissioned to present.



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