The Myth and Magic of the Persian Carpet

Most carpets are just floor coverings, some are valuable works of art and a rare few are the stuff of myth and legend. They fly or they represent ancient magical jewels. To sum it up, they’re magical. Any time you hear the story of a magical carpet it’s a fair bet you’re hearing a tale that originated about a Persian rug.

Flying Carpets

The story of the flying carpet probably entered Western European literature in the 16th century in the stories of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ first published English in 1706 under the title The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. These are the stories that Scheherazade, told her husband a Persian king. The king had been in the habit of marrying a new bride every day and beheading her the following morning to ensure that she had no opportunity to be unfaithful. Scheherazade started a tale on their wedding night but didn’t finish it, her husband was forced to spare her for a day in order to hear the end of the story, and the beginning of the next….

One of these stories relates how Prince Husain, the eldest son of Sultan of the Indies, travels to Bisnagar (Vijayanagara) in India and buys a magic carpet which can transport a man any distance ‘in the twinkling of an eye’. Not so much a flying carpet as an ancient matter transporter!

Another famous flying carpet belonged to Solomon. Solomon’s carpet seems to have been a little slower than Prince Hisain’s, ‘he sailed through the air so quickly that he breakfasted at Damascus and supped in Media’. Impressive but not quite twinkling of an eye stuff. Maybe Solomon’s carpet was slower on account of it’s sheer size, legend placed it at sixty miles long and sixty miles wide.

Stories of the flying carpet pre-date the 16th century translation of Arabic folk-tales. The French explorer Henri Baq claims to have discovered a series of manuscripts written by a 13th century Jewish scholar Isaac Ben Sherira. These were found at a castle at Alamut, near the Caspian Sea in present day Iran

According to Ben Sherira, Muslim rulers used to consider flying carpets as devil-inspired contraptions. He suggests that they were used by thieves and others at the fringes of society, though they did receive some official favour around about AD 1213, when a Toranian prince demonstrated their use in attacking an enemy castle by positioning a squadron of archers on them!

Ben Sherira presented his journal as fact rather than fiction, even going so far as to introduce both politics and religion into his story. Flying carpets were discouraged in the Islamic lands for two reasons. The official line was that man was never intended to fly, and the flying carpet was a sacrilege to the order of things. The second reason was economic. For the establishment, it was necessary to keep the horse and the camel as the standard means of transport.

King Balash’s Carpet

Another legend claims to explain the origin of the Persian carpet. King Balash was reputed to own a giant diamond which was stolen then dropped onto a rocky plain, where it shattered into thousands of glittering fragments. When the king saw the ‘carpet’ of jewels he was so grief-stricken that her refused to leave it. To lure their leader back to his palace, Payem and apprentice carpet maker and his fellows wove a silk carpet as brilliantly coloured as the one made of diamond.This legend is supposed to portray the healing power of art, something that modern day owners of antique Persian carpets might well agree with.

And the Real Story

Your Persian carpet may not fly but looking at the beautiful and intricate design within it may well lift your sole. You’ll want to treasure it, choose the people you’re willing to trust with carpet cleaning very carefully and keep it away from moths or other insects. You may be willing to place it on the floor but do get your guests to take their shoes off before they set foot on it.