Journey to the Source

Persian carpets

Traditionally bought as luxury items and used as investments to be sold off in times of need, Persian carpets are possibly Iran's most famous export - and understandably so. Since carpets have been produced here for over 2,500 years, the Iranians know a thing or two about making them.

Traditionally bought as luxury items and used as investments to be sold off in times of need, Persian carpets are possibly Iran's most famous export - and understandably so. Since carpets have been produced here for over 2,500 years, the Iranians know a thing or two about making them.

The provenance and design of each carpet is crucial. Each region produces characteristic carpets and symbolic patterns - such as lamps to indicate the sacred lamp in Mecca or dogs to ward off evil spirits - are often woven into the wool, cotton or silk. If you want the real thing, buying a good quality carpet in modern-day Iran is not as straightforward as it should be, since - due to high demand, cheaper production costs and competition from India and Turkey - many of the carpets are mass-produced by factory machines rather than woven in the traditional way by nomadic weavers and small village workshops.

So, choose carefully. According to the Lonely Planet Guide to Iran (£11.99), buying in an Iranian bazaar can be a real gamble and it's worth reading up before you go. You also need to take into account the fact that you will probably have to pay to get your carpets home - certainly if they take up more space than 12 square metres in total.

If you don't have the patience to seek out the country's small weaving centres, there are plenty of carpet-buying opportunities in Tehran. The Grand Persian Carpet Exhibition and Carpet Conference takes place in the capital each August and is a good place to buy or browse. If you can't afford the carpets here, admire them from afar at the city's famous but fairly small Carpet Museum in Lale Park, off Kargar Street. Alternatively, haggle your way with care through the carpetsellers along Ferdosi Street in Tehran Bazaar. Philippa Goodrich recently paid $300 (£190) for a good quality 3ft x 4ft carpet here.

If you bought a similarly-sized handwoven carpet back in the UK at Mansour (56 South Audley Street, London, W1, 0171-499 5602), you could expect to pay upwards of £500 so, buy in Tehran and use the £310 you save to put towards a £380 return flight from London to Tehran with Iran Air (0171- 409 0971). That way, you can use the free internal flight that comes with this ticket to go carpet-hunting further afield.

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