A Brief History of Serapi Carpets
For centuries, the weavers in villages and small towns of northwestern Iran have created some of the world's most cherished rugs. The Serapi rug is no exception. Serapis are known for being timeless due to their simple design and limited color palette that enables them to meld quite well into almost any interior room. Serapis, also known as Saraba, Serabia or Siraba, are hand-knotted in Iran and usually showcase a center medallion as its outstanding feature among geometric designs. Their background are surrounded by a few large motifs. They are made up of wool and constructed of a cotton warp and cotton weft. This type of carpet comes in a variety of knots but commonly they are Ghiordes knots or Senneh knots.
The origin of the Serapi name is quite contested. According to some rug dealers, the term "Serapi" is western born as there is no city, village, rural area or tribe by that exact name in Iran. In 1876, about the time these rugs were coming on the English European market, the Prince of Wales made a trip to India on the Euphrates-class troopship knows as the H.M.S. Serapis. It was commissioned for the transport of English troops to and from India. The similarity of the names led to the form "Serapi" for the rugs. However, some other scholars believe "Serapi" is a westernized version of a north western Persian village by the Caspian Sea known as: Sarab.
Sarab is a city in the capital of Sarab County, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran which is famous for its rugs. However, this city is notorious for producing long and narrow carpets and not the room sized ones that one is used to seeing in Serapis. Another group of scholars claim that "Serapi" is a term that started to be used in order to distinguish between the older, tribal and more open designed Heriz carpets at the time from the "newer" more structured examples. They believe that Serapis are therefore derived from the Heriz family of rugs and not the reverse.
Nowadays, newly hand-knotted rugs made in the district of Heriz are not as similar as they use to be to Serapis so these new pieces are generally just called Heriz carpets. New Heriz models are more intricate, complex and detailed in design than Serapis although they follow similar geometric designs. In some cases, these Herizes don't even contain the center medallion. Every new generation of weavers and designers have added a few more motifs to the older designs. Often Serapis are called Herizes which, as mentioned, is the name of a similar type of Persian carpet made in the district of Heriz in Iran. Both have light and bright color schemes with simple, geometric designs and a coarse weave despite the fact that antique Serapis are known for being less coarser. Sometimes a client thinks he is the owner of a Heriz only later to find out that he has in fact owned a Serapi for many years.
An easy way to tell them apart would be to turn over the carpet and carefully examine its backside. At the the back of a Serapi carpet, one will notice that the warps and the rows of knots along them are firmly pressed down so that the warp threads don't show up and down the back. In a Heriz weave, the knots are not pressed down and are offset so that the warp is noticeable along the back. Another way to confirm if a carpet is a Heriz or a Serapi would be to run your hand side to side across its back. A bumpy feel would confirm that it is a Heriz. A smoother feel, would confirm that you are caressing a rare and valuable Serapi carpet. Authentic Serapi carpets were mostly produced up until the 1920's. They are therefore generally older and difficult to encounter as well as being more tribal and artistic. For these reasons, they traditionally cost more than their Heriz counterpart but of course there can be exceptions. To learn more about iranian rugs, please visit our Persian Rugs section.
Sources and inspiration: Bérinstain, Valérie, et al. L'art du tapis dans le monde (The art of carpets in the world). Paris: Mengès, 1996. Print.; Jerrehian Jr., Aram K.A. Oriental Rug Primer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1980. Print.; Herbert, Janice Summers. Oriental Rugs, New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.; Hackmack, Adolf. Chinese Carpets and Rugs, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1980. Print. ; De Moubray, Amicia, and David Black. Carpets for the home, London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999. Print.; Jacobsen, Charles. Oriental Rugs A Complete Guide, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962. Print.; Bashir, S. (n.d.). Personal interview.; Web site sources and dates of consultation vary (to be confirmed). Without prejudice to official usage.