In the days of Chosroes I., the most important of the Sassanid princes (531—579A.D), a marvellous carpet representing a garden was woven. The garden carpet was sixty yards square and made of the finest materials:
The ground represented a pleasure-garden, with streams and paths, trees and beautiful spring flowers. The wide border all round showed flower-beds of various colouring, the “ flowers” being blue, red, yellow, or white stones. The ground was yellowish, to look like earth, and it was worked in gold. The edges of the streams were worked in stripes, and between them stones bright as crystal gave the illusion of water, the size of the pebbles being what pearls might be. The stalks and branches were gold or silver, the leaves of trees and flowers made of silk, like the rest of the plants; and the fruits were coloured stones.
This is the earliest extant account of a Persian carpet, and it was known either as the winter carpet, or as the spring garden, of King Chosroes. Several garden carpets of the same kind, but of a later date, have been preserved (Fig. 102).
The one thing that never varies is the formal regularity of the design, which is generally enlivened by water-animals round a tank in the middle. Encircling the centre part are paths and narrow canals, with straight beds between. Sometimes the whole border is treated as a canal, and made bright with fish, or again there may be a small island in the middle with water branching off ( Fig. 103).
These carpet-garden designs must have been very common, for in Arabian carpets even now the border is called Su ( =water), and the foundation or ground part is called both in Arabic and in old Persian by a name that means Earth. These words, coupled with the earliest descriptions of a Persian carpet, make it seem more than probable that this is the original idea of all carpet design. Rugs, the real Persian furniture, served the same purpose as wall-paintings in other countries to bring into the house the picture of the beloved garden of summer-time. Even the material used was much the same as for the paintings on the walls and for the stuff they sat on with crossed legs.
The Persians were delighted with this illusion of a garden, helped out as it must have been by the sweet scents of their artificial perfumes. On these carpets we can realise a picture, though a conventional one, of the pleasure-gardens and those surrounding the houses. The miniature garden pictures look like carpets (Fig. 104).
The love of trees is an inheritance for all Persians; as in ancient days, they still love to have little rooms fixed up among the branches, and steps to help them up into the tree (Fig. 105).
In the flower-gardens they liked to have cypresses and flowering trees, and their parks had long rows of trees and hedges and beast-cages, and here was the great playing-ground for the national game of polo, which their neighbours learnt with enthusiasm. That gigantic carpet of King Chosroes which the Sassanid rulers used (even Jazdegerd, the last of them) was looted with innumerable treasures at the victorious invasion of the Arabs in 637, and we owe our knowledge of it to the bewildered admiration of their historians. Before the mighty attack of the Arabian foe the Persian empire, and all its gardens, like the Byzantine empire before it, perished in the dust.
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