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Famous Carpets Through the Ages

27 June 2018

a 6-minute read

From Aladdin’s faithful companion to the beautiful Persian designs that adorn our favourite period dramas, the design and creation of carpets has held our fascination for centuries. Whether you’re a huge Disney fan or a massive history buff, grab a cuppa and get ready to wriggle your toes into our cosy collection of the world’s most famous carpets.

Aladdin’s Magic Carpet

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If you ask anyone to name a famous carpet, most people’s minds will turn to Aladdin, whether that’s the Disney version or the ancient Thousand and One Nights version. Carpet fans might be surprised to discover, however, that the magic carpet never actually made an appearance in the original version of Aladdin’s tale. Instead, Aladdin and his princess are carried on their wedding bed, which is floated through the air by the magic of the genie.

The Disney version of the magic carpet was, in reality, the first time such a carpet was associated with Aladdin’s tale, and is thought to be based on a 13th century tale about King Solomon, who received a magical green silk carpet from the Queen of Sheba. Embroidered with gold, silver and precious gems, the carpet was so big that King Solomon’s entire court could fly upon it.

The Ardabil Carpet

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The world’s oldest dated carpet, the Ardabil carpet is a famous Iranian design that dates back to the mid-16th century. In fact, historians have been able to date the Ardabil carpet to exactly AD 1539 – 1540, thanks to an inscription found on the carpet itself stating, “The work of the slave of the portal, Maqsud Kashani”, and the date 946 in the Muslim calendar.

Not only is the Ardabil carpet the world’s oldest, it’s also one of the biggest, most well-preserved and most impressive ancient carpets ever found. Measuring at 34.5 x 17.5 feet, the carpet is made of a silk foundation and a wool pile of around 26 million knots in total, allowing for incredible detail in its complex integrated patterns of flowers, inscriptions, and lamps coloured with natural dyes such as indigo and pomegranate rind. It’s estimated that the carpet would have taken a team of around ten weavers several years to complete.

Initially a commission for the shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, the carpet was moved to Britain after an earthquake where it was eventually acquired for the V&A in 1893 by William Morris, then the museum’s Art Referee. It can now be viewed in the V&A’s Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, where it is only lit for ten minutes every half hour to preserve its beautiful colours.


Portland Airport Carpet

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Less an ancient wonder and more of a modern marvel, the Portland Airport Carpet has recently been declared the world’s most famous carpet after it went viral on social media thanks to its loud colours, garish design and eventual replacement. Initially commissioned in the 80s to dampen the noise of travellers footsteps in the terminal, the carpet features a bright teal background with a geometric blue and red design based on the airport’s runways.

The carpet soon became an iconic representation of Portland, with visitors taking pictures of themselves standing on the recognisable design, and a Facebook appreciation group and Instagram hashtag were soon to follow. The carpet went viral again in 2013 when the airport announced its removal, the media outrage at which led to the original carpet being cut up and sold to several designers to turn into clothing and memorabilia.

The Carpets of Downton Abbey

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Famous for its lush set designs and timely opulence, Downton Abbey instilled interior decor envy into all its fans – not least due to the famous floors of Highclere Castle, where the series was filmed. In keeping with the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras during which the show is set, many scenes of Downton take place on the colourful antique Persian, Indian, French and Spanish rugs that would have been popular amongst the aristocracy at the time. Serapi, Sultanabad, Aubusson, Ziegler, Bidjar, and Tabriz designs can all be spotted in the background of some of the most famous scenes, firmly grounding the series in a time when world travel and exoticism were becoming more popular than ever.

The Carpet In Shaikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

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While there may be older carpets in the world, when it comes to size, none is more impressive than the carpet found in Abu Dhabi’s Shaikh Zayed Mosque. Hailed as the largest carpet in the world, it measures at a whopping 60,546 square feet. Taking 1,200 weavers a year and a half to complete, the 12 tonne cotton and wool carpet was unveiled in 2007 and comprises of 2.2 billion individual, hand-tied knots. Its carefully designed pattern is just as impressive; the carpet is predominantly green, a significant colour in Islam and the Emirates, and features subtly raised lines that help worshippers form neat rows during prayer.

The Carpet in the Overlook Hotel


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As far as film sets go, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has one of the most famous of them all. Ask any horror fan what lingers in their memory most about the set and many will be sure to cite the Overlook Hotel’s iconic patterned carpet. Featuring a graphic hexagonal pattern in reds, browns, and oranges, the carpet is not only iconic of the film but also of the era.

Prominent in many of the film’s most recognisable scenes, the carpet’s design was created by renowned interior decorator David Hicks who was famous for adorning the floors of both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. However, Hicks was never actually associated with the film, and the carpet was thought to have been simply copied or purchased off-the-shelf, possibly because of the hexagon’s association with evil and satanic worship.

The carpet has gone on to be referenced in several film including Toy Story, Minions and Birdman, and Kubrick fans will be pleased to find out that the iconic design can now be purchased in rug form. We’re not sure we’d want it in our living room though…

Game of Thrones Carpet Capes

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Talking of famous carpets in entertainment, one show recently made headlines when its wardrobe team had a rather creative approach to the use of rugs on set. Despite their multi-million pound budget, Game of Thrones designers recently admitted that their shaggy Night’s Watch capes originally began life as IKEA carpets!

In order to achieve a raw and authentic design, the wardrobe team took the sheepskin rugs and added leather backing and straps to resemble capes made from real skins. Online debates have since ranged amongst fans as to which IKEA rugs were used.

The Red Carpet

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We might not all get to walk down one, but the red carpet has marked the ultimate sign of celebrity and status since the Golden Age of Hollywood. But have you ever wondered where it came from and why it was red? In actual fact, red carpets were rolled out for heads of state long before they became the territory of movie stars.

The first known reference to such a carpet is in the Greek Tragedy Agamemnon, while similar red floor coverings are often depicted at the feet of royalty or religious figures in Renaissance paintings. It wasn’t until 1922, at the premiere of the film Robin Hood, that the first red carpet was rolled out in Hollywood; used at several film premieres that followed, it was the red carpet’s appearance at the 1961 Academy Awards that cemented it as an iconic Hollywood staple.

Are you inspired by any of these famous carpets? At Donnelly Watson, we can create a bespoke design for your home or office, so get in touch today.

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