Art, History, Persian Architecture, Persian Heritage, Persian Tattoos

The Rich and Alluring History of Persian Art

In the 6th century BC, the Persians had a vast empire that stretched all the way from the Indus Valley to the northern region of Greece, and from Egypt to Central Asia. But Persia was unique. It was tolerant, accepting of other languages, faiths and political organizations. It was one (if not the) first multi-ethnic empires.

Not surprisingly, Persia is known for having one of the richest art histories in the world and thrived in all types of media from weaving to painting, architecture, metalworking, sculpture, pottery and more.

Themes and Motifs in Persian Art

Surviving ancient monuments from Persia depict mostly humans and animals. Humans were typically male and often royalty. Persian art focused more on figures than Islamic art from other regions.

Persian art is intensely ornate and often laid out in a geometric fashion. Motifs were combined harmoniously to create elegant pieces, with influences from various regions of the empire. Chinese motifs, like the cloud-band, were incorporated, and animals were often depicted on a much smaller scale than the plants surrounding them.

Persian Art Forms and Styles

The Persians mastered numerous art forms and styles from pottery to ceramics, metalworking, miniature paintings, and sculptures.

Pottery and Rock Reliefs

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of pottery-painted civilization located near Susa that date back to 5000 BC. Rock reliefs have also been discovered that date back as far as 500 BC.

Persian pottery

Reliefs were typically placed beside roads and near water sources, and were used as a way to glorify the Persian king, Elamite and Lullubi were the first to create reliefs, and the practice continued under the Assyrians and beyond.

Persian Miniature

The Persian miniature, a small painting on paper, was another popular art form. The art may have been featured in a book as an illustration, or it may have been a separate persian miniaturepiece intended to keep in an album of miniature works, referred to as a muraqqa. The techniques used to create the Persian miniature were very similar to the Byzantine and Western traditions of the miniatures in illuminated manuscripts.


Persian ceramics took inspiration from Chinese porcelain. Pieces featured Chinese motifs and forms, such as dragons and chi clouds, and were typically painted in blue and white.

Numerous types of ceramics were produced by the Persians, including plates, flasks, spittoons and goblets. Flask shapes were typically flat on one side and rounded on the other with small necks. The shapes were generally inspired by Islamic metalwork, while the decoration was borrowed from Chinese porcelain.

Persian Carpets

Persia is, perhaps, best-known for its carpet weaving, which is still an essential part of the art and culture. Persian rugs are known for their elaborate designs, which is what sets them apart from their peers.

Persian carpets and rugs are woven in parallel, typically in local workshops by nomadic tribes. Each region has its own customary styles and themes.

While carpet weaving has seen its fair share of ups and downs throughout history, it still play a major role in the modern Iran economy.

Despite the Persian Empire’s fall around 465 BC, its rich art history still influences modern art today. While Persia may be best-known for its ornate carpets and rugs, the empire produced some of the most impressive miniature paintings, metalworking pieces and sculptures of its time.

Art, Persian Architecture, Persian Heritage

A Brief History of Persian Architecture and Art

The Persian empire was vast, and one of the lasting legacies of the empire, aside from their fierce battles and dominance in the known world, was their influence on architecture and art as a whole.

An old empire, Persia’s architecture has gone through several transitions:

3500BC – 1200 BC

The early period was known for splendid ceramics from Persepolis and Susa. Large bowls and goblets were common, and 3D art became popular. The animal style art started to become popular as bronze objects dating between 1700BC and 1200BC became popular.

550 BC – 330 BC: Achaemenid Period

The period between 550 BC and 330 BC saw major influences from the Greeks and Egyptians. Massive complexes were built as well as palaces with columned audience halls, porticoes, square towers and high terraces.

Persepolitan columns became popular with high bases and bell shapes.

Double staircases were used to enter Xerxes I’s audience hall, and enameled brick was used.

Achaemenid architecture

323 BC: The Death of Alexander the Great

The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC led to radical changes, including stone buildings, brick with sculpted heads, and Hellenistic motifs. Rubble and brick were used to rebuild the Parthian by the Sassanids who came into rule in AD226.

Stucco reliefs and carved stone also grew in prominence at this time.

Islam Begins

Islam spread throughout the region in Iran, and the Persians at the time created raised domes over a square hall. Stucco decoration became popular as well as mausoleums.  The Ismail the Samanid at Bukhara dates back to 907 AD and points to the Persian domes still being used.

The brick building is square yet maintains a dome on the top.

Islam’s influence grew further, and the Qabus from 1006 AD has a star-shaped tomb tower. Metalwork and pottery became increasingly popular at this time, and the Turks further added influence with ceramics, enamel colors and leaf gilding.

13th Century – 16th Century

The Mongol invasions started in the 13th century, and many of the towns and art in Persia were lost as a result. An epic devastation at the time, we don’t see much of an architectural change during this period.

The Timurid painting from the 15th century shows that Chinese influence had grown in Persia, and symmetry reemerged. Mosaic faience covered many buildings and architecture. The height of the period’s architectural development can be seen in the Maidan-I Shah building complex.

1449 AD – 1925 AD

The Safavid Dynasty first came to power in 1449 and lasted until 1722.  The dynasty had a major impact and influence on culture as palaces were decorated with exaggerated mural paintings, single portraits were created, and the Shah Namah was also created, which is seen as the greatest development in painting of the time.

Following the 17th century, Persian culture was influenced heavily by Europe and India, causing a degeneration in the country’s uniqueness. The Qajar dynasty, which lasted from 1779 to 1925, resulted in much of what is modern-day Iran. Theatrical styles were developed, the Neo-Achaemenid style was an attempt to revive Persia’s past, and many of the public buildings in Tehran reflect these changes.

Art, Persian Heritage, Persian Tattoos

The History of Persian Tattoos: An Understanding of an Ancient Culture

Body art, or tattoos, has long been a way of expression in humanity. Many ancient cultures have been linked to body art, and while the tattoos we know and love today may use different ink, colors and techniques, tattoos have been around since ancient times. Persian tattoos, for example, helped the person:

  • Relate to the Persian gods
  • Boost courage or strength
  • Identify with a tribe or community

And these are just a few of the many reasons Persians may have had tattoos.

Historical References of Tattoos and Body Art in Persia

Persia’s mighty empire left behind a culture and history that is rich with body art and self-expression. We see body art in Persian society dating back to 550 – 330 B.C. through stone carvings of the Archaemenid Persian Empire.

Many of the statues show body piercings on soldiers, kings and even the gods.

While the gods may not have worn jewelry or had piercings, the kings and soldiers did. Lay people also likely had some form of body art at the time. Earrings and piercings were a very popular trend back in ancient Persia.Persian tattoo

Tattoos are seen in much more recent times, dating back just 800 years ago. While scholars believe that Persians may have had tattoos before this time, the first written proof of tattoos comes from a poem about a man that asks to get a tattoo of a fierce lion. The original poem is attributed to the famous poet called Rami.

If you’re interest in Rami’s poems, a collection of them can be found here.

The ancient art of tattoos was likely seen much earlier than the poem that Rami wrote, but this is the earliest evidence of tattoos in Persian culture that we can find.

Persian Tattoos: Who Got Them and Why?

Tattoos were often associated with strength (men) and beauty (women). And in Persian culture, there were also tattoos that were seen for superstitious reasons. Tattoos could ward off evil or keep bad spirits away from the person.

Persians that received tattoos included:

  • Athletes: Wrestlers in particular had large tattoos on their arms and chest.
  • Men: Masculine men would have tattoos of their children, wives or names of their loved ones.
  • Rebels: Some rebels were given a tattoo to show they were disapproved in the society.
  • Women: Small tattoos were seen on Persian women. Tattoos were for beautification, and some acted as makeup or to cover up blemishes.

Persian tattoos in history have been temporarily halted at this point. Iran, the area that is now the place of the former Persian empire, has banned all tattoos in the country. An article was posted in the Independent that covers the topic in its entirety.

In short, tattoos considered “devil-worship” in Iran.

But the Persian empire was vast, and Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and parts of Egypt and Israel were also within the empire.

Want a Persian Style Tattoo? Here’s What You Need to Know

While you won’t be able to get at tattoo in Iran, you can get a Persian style tattoo or a tattoo with an Iranian theme. Here’s what you need to know:

Know the Drawbacks

There are a few things you need to consider when getting a tattoo. For starters, it will be painful. But you should also know how to care for your tattoo once it’s complete. For example, you won’t be able to get laser hair removal on that area.

Good Artists are Hard to Come By, But Worth the Wait

You’re not looking to get a tattoo of your mom’s name or a flower – if you’re looking to get a Persian style tattoo, you need to work with an artist who knows what he’s doing. Great artists are hard to come by, but worth the wait.

Art, Persian Heritage

After 2,000 Years, Persian Carpets are Still Popular Today

Aside from its conquering of the world, Persia is best-known for its carpet-weaving. When most people hear the words “Persian carpet,” they typically think of rugs with extremely ornate designs and equally extreme price tags. And that’s a pretty accurate description.

From the moment the Greeks mentioned them in writings, Persian carpets have had a reputation for being something only the most elite and wealthy individuals owned; esteemed for their high artistic value.

Persian weaving techniques vary from town to town, as does the colors and motifs featured on the carpets they produce. Traditionally, carpets were produced by nomadic tribes.

A Look Back at the History of Persian Carpets

Historians are still unsure of when Persians began weaving carpets simply because we don’t have much evidence – carpets are vulnerable to destruction from rodents and insects.

But we do know that carpet weaving in the region dates back to at least 400 BC. The famous Pazyryk carpet, which is largely considered the oldest carpet in the world, was found in a Scythian nobleman’s grave in Siberia. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the carpet was created in the 5th century BC.

Pazyryk carpet

The Pazyryk carpet is about 9ft by 6.5ft., and features about 232 knots per square inch. The advanced techniques used to weave the carpet suggests that this art form was well developed and therefore, had likely been around for quite some time before 400 BC.

Today, the tradition of carpet weaving is still alive and well in Iran and other regions that were formerly a part of the Persian Empire. Despite increased competition from countries with lower wages and cheaper methods of production, traditional Persian carpets are highly sought after and prized for their artistic value.

How Traditional Persian Carpets Are Made

While you will find modern carpets that imitate the design and weaving method used by Persians, the most valuable and popular carpets are those made in the traditional way.

Sheep’s wool is the most common material type, although the quality can vary from one region to the next depending on the climate and the breed of sheep. Some fine Persian rugs are made entirely of silk, but these are typically hung as tapestries on the wall or used as pillows rather than traditional carpets.

Modern rugs also feature cotton on the wefts and warps. Cotton is preferred here because it can be spun more tightly and is more tolerant of tension, which makes it an ideal choice for the rug’s foundation.

Wool, cotton and silk fibers spun mechanically or by hand to create yarn.

Natural plant and insect dyes are the preferred choice even for modern carpets, although synthetic dyes are sometimes used.

Weaving techniques are complex and vary between different regions. You’ll find that there are several provinces that produce Persian carpets, and many have their own weaving techniques and motifs.

The ancient art of Persian carpet weaving dates back to at least 400 BC, and they’re still highly sought after even today. Despite rising and falling in popularity throughout history, Persian rugs hold high artistic and utilitarian value to this day.