Azerbaijan has been known as a center of many crafts since ancient times. Carpet weaving on this territory dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C. Predominantly a woman’s activity, it is a family tradition transmitted to a new generation orally and through practice.
The practice of carpet-weaving originated in rural areas and as time passed developed into an essential craft in Azerbaijani culture. There are several historical sources that speak of Azerbaijani carpets. They are mentioned in the writings of Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon, Chinese traveler Xuan Tes Ank, and Arabian travelers Al-Movsudi and Al-Mugaddasi.
Years ago, an Azerbaijani girl had to learn how to weave a carpet, and the carpets she wove would later become a part of her dowry. In the case of a son, when he got married, his mother would weave a carpet for his home. Starting a new carpet and finishing it was highly celebrated in the family. Carpets were widely used in the daily life of local people; they used them to cover floors, walls, and roofs of houses. Special carpets were woven for prayer, wedding ceremonies, mourning rituals, or the birth of a child.
The carpets are usually made from lamb or sheep wool. Men used to shear the sheep twice a year, in autumn and spring, because the wool is brighter and softer then. The same goes for lamb wool in comparison to sheep wool. The yarn is dyed with natural pigments obtained from local plants; for example, onions were used for yellow or hazelnuts for brown. Centuries-old traditional coloring techniques are rigorously followed in the dyeing process; preparing the colors and dyeing the yarn requires great skill.
According to their technical aspects, Azerbaijani carpets can be classified as flat-woven (pileless) and knotted (pile). The flat-woven carpets are linked to the earlier period of carpet weaving. There are several kinds of pileless carpets such as Shadda, Verni, Jejim, Zilli, Sumakh, Kilim and Palas, and they are classified according to weaving style, color, structure, and ornament abundance.
Pile carpets require a completely different set of precise techniques, with a pile knot administered to every two warped threads. The very close arrangement of knots is a distinguishing characteristic of Azerbaijani carpets. Depending on the place of origin, the density of the carpet varies from 1600 to 4900 threads per square decimeter.
Azerbaijani carpets are divided into several groups or schools named for their regions of origin and are known as Guba, Baku, Shirvan, Ganja, Gazakh, Garabagh, Nahichevan and Tabriz. The carpets of every school differ in color, composition, and decoration. Guba carpets have a large variety of designs which may vary depending on where they were made and consist of stylized organic or geometrical patterns.
Baku carpets are distinguished by their softness and color intensity, as well as other traits. Rich compositions and complex patterns are typical of the Shirvan school, which has manufactured carpets popular in Europe since the Middle Ages. Garabagh carpets are usually larger in size and are, very often, part of a five-piece set. There are two things common to all Azerbaijani carpets: the design doesn’t take perspective into account and the carpets don’t have a background.
A real proof of the importance of carpet-weaving in Azerbaijan is the Azerbaijani Carpet Museum. It was established in 1967 and at the time was the only museum dedicated to the art of carpet weaving. It stores carpets and rugs from different periods and areas. The museum was created with the purpose of storing and researching unique examples of the art. The initiator of the museum was Latif Karimov, who was, among other things, a prominent carpet designer.
Beautiful Azerbaijani carpets are on display in many of the great museums of the world, including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Louvre in Paris. They are a demonstration of the great skill of Azerbaijani masters of the art of carpet weaving. In 2010, UNESCO proclaimed Azerbaijani carpet-weaving a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.