Serapi Rugs

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The Oriental rugs we identify with fine interior design are very often antique Serapi rugs. Woven in Persia for more than 100 years, beginning in the late 18th century, these rugs are characterized by a central medallion motif and a rectilinear weaving design. Colors are subtle and deep variations of reds and reddish-browns, with blues used as ground for contrast, especially in borders.

Serapi Rugs in History

Serab, the town for which the rugs are named, was also, in the period from 1750 to 1813, a Khanate. The center of the region in which Serapi rugs were produced--known as Heriz--lies in northwestern Iran, south of the Caspian Sea and almost midway between Iran's capital city of Tehran and Iraq's city of Kirkuk. Many of the weavers are ethnic Armenians and Azeri who fled to Iran during the many Russian and Soviet expansions to the south.

Regarding the evolution of the "b" sound of Serab to the "p" sound of Serapi, one suggestion centers on an 1876 sea trip the popular and always news-worthy Prince of Wales took from India back to Britain. The voyage was made on the HMS Serapis--one of five British ships named for a god that figured in both Egyptian and Greek mythology. This period, of course, is when Persian carpets were becoming so especially well known and popular in Europe. Given that, the slide from the "b" sound to the "p" seems natural enough.

In the United States, Serapi rugs are most often known simply as antique Heriz. This is certainly the case at Sotheby's in New York. At Sotheby's in London, however, they are known as Serapi. Once again Britain and America seem divided by a common language. There's no easy way to explain that difference.

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