Cultural Ambassadors of Iran`s Civilization

Fatemeh Fereidooni Anthropologist Expert

IRAN is home to one of the most important civilizations in human history. Its ancient artifacts and treasures, that have been preserved in museums all over the world, are vivid proof of this claim. These objects, that have been labelled as “archaeological findings”, are in fact the handicrafts that have been saved during the passage of time and now function as important documents that enlighten us about various aspects of the Iranian people’s cultural identity.

6000 – year old pottery from ”, the 4500 – year old Lorestan Bronzes, the 2500 – year old Pazyryk, an earliest pile-woven carpet, metal dishes that are masterworks of the Sasanian period, and 1000 – year-old textiles are a small part of the creations of this glorious and talented people. They were made for different proposes: For use in their daily lives, gifts to temples, equipment for war, sacred objects, and so on.

6000 – year old pottery from “Burnt City”, the 4500 – year old Lorestan Bronzes, the 2500 – year old Pazyryk, an earliest pile-woven carpet, metal dishes that are masterworks of the Sasanian period, and 1000 – year-old textiles are a small part of the creations of this glorious and talented people. They were made for different proposes: For use in their daily lives, gifts to temples, equipment for war, sacred objects, and so on.

These objects, known as “Cultural Ambassadors” of Iran`s  history and civilization and displayed in front of eyes of rest of the world, are often referred to as “handicrafts.” There is a good reason why the Iranians call their creators “honarmand,” which means ”artist,” and not “sanatgar,” which means “artisan.” To the Iranian people, these “handicrafts” are known as art.

There are 14 major categories of handicrafts in Iran, with more than 250 subcategories.  There are more than two million people involved in this field, apart from carpet weaving, which is a totally separate field, and there are more than 3 million people involved, directly or indirectly, in carpet weaving. These figures show the importance of handicrafts in Iran.

Iran is among the 10 main producers of handicrafts in the world, and, in some fields such as carpet weaving, has been placed at the top of the list for centuries.

The variety and extent of handicrafts are so great that it can be said there is a workshop for producing a special handicraft in every corner of the country. There are many different handicraft producers in some provinces that can compete with other countries around the world.  For example, we can point to the excellent rank of the productions of Isfahan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Alborz and Kurdistan provinces.

Getting familiar with the entire range of Iranian handicrafts requires a university course and months of travel to claim an extensive knowledge of the field, but here we will try to introduce some of the most important areas:

1  – Carpet Weaving: Persian Carpets are the most important national handicraft, and they are among the top three most important products that Iran exports to the world. More than 30% of the world‘s silk carpets are made in Iran. Each province and region has its own special carpet designs that are distinguished by their colour, design, and motifs. These display the culture, history and even the climate of the people and region that created them. Iran is the only country in the world that has a carpet weaving university.

 2 – Traditional Textile weaving: the fabrics of the Sasanian period (1500 years ago), the Seljuk period (1000 years ago) and the Safavid period (400 years ago) are narrators of a brilliant era of textile production in Iran. Today, traditional textile production is extensively supported by the Iran Cultural Heritage Organization for preservation and dissemination of these textile traditions.   There are workshops in many towns and cities that are trying to make a link between this field and the economic life of people. The most important cities in the field of textiles are Tehran, Isfahan, Kashan, Qazvin, Bushehr, Gorgan, Birjand, Yazd, and Semnan.

3 – Metal Engraving: Iran is one of the most accomplished countries in the world in the field of metal handicrafts. This tradition goes back 4500 years and, in fact, the world‍‍‍‍`s Bronze Age started in Lorestan. Isfahani artisans are the most well-known metal engraving artisans anywhere.

4 – Handicrafts related to architecture: Persian architecture, like the Persian carpet, has fulfilled its duty as a cultural ambassador of Iran very well. The tradition and techniques of Persian architecture are so deeply embedded in Islamic architecture that they cannot be separated or even distinguished. “Kashi kari (tilework),” “Aaeneh kari (mirror work),” “Muqarnas kari,”  and “Gereh chini” are a few examples of the techniques that are common in Persian architecture. The best proof of this is the term “Kashi,” which means “tile,” and is derived from the city of “Kashan,” where they produce the best and most beautiful tile in the whole Islamic world. “Kashi” is now the word used for “tile” in Arabic countries. “Aaineh kari,” which means mirror work, is another handicraft that has been born and grown in Iran and now functions as a trace and signature of the Iranian artisan`s presence in all of the Islamic world.

5 – Traditional Needlework: The Persian Carpet has another sister which is less well-known. Traditional needlework is a handicraft that is made only by women, and perhaps this is the main reason for it being relatively little-known and its artists anonymous. Needlework is an integral part of Iranian ethnic culture. Indeed, Iran is a paradise for people who love needlework and embroidery art. The main regions for Iranian needlework are the following:

– Baluchistan Province

–  Golestan Province

–  Azerbaijan Province

 –  Kerman Province

–  Kashan Province

–  Isfahan Province

 – Hormozgan Province

 –  Khorasan Province

6  – Traditional Jewelry: Although traditional jewelry can be placed under the metal handicrafts category due to its widespread use and popularity among different groups and its role in displaying people’s cultural and ethnic identity, a special section is devoted to this art. The ethnic diversity of Iran has made types of traditional jewellery totally different in form, material and technique. There are eight main regions which are famous for traditional jewellery making:

   Baluchistan Province

  Golestan Province

   Kordestan Province

  Zanjan Province

   Khuzestan Province

  Isfahan Province

   Hormozgan Province

   Eastern Azarbaijan Province

7  – Handicrafts Related to Calligraphy and Painting: since poetry is very popular, and Iranians respect their poets and value poems, they have done their best to make their books exquisitely beautiful. Iran is the birthplace of a number of important calligraphy and painting schools. There are several crafts related to bookmaking and decoration, such as:

   Tazhib (decoration with golden ink)

   Tasheir (decoration of margins)

Jeld sazi (making of book covers)

Negar gari (Iranian miniature painting)

Khoshnevisi (Calligraphy)

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