Isfahan from ancient time is a major center of traditional crafts in Persia. Isfahan's handicrafts include textiles, carpets, woodwork, metalwork, ceramics, painting, and various types of inlay work. The work is done in a variety of settings, including small industrial and bazaar workshops, the homes of artisans and women, and rural handicrafts.
Esfahan’s crafts are rooted in the Safavid royal past. The passing of skills from one generation to the next has been disrupted many times, beginning with the Afghan invasion of 1722, and by later wars, famines, plagues, tribal pillages and the resulting depopulation.
During the Qajar period there was a steady outflow of skill and talent from Isfahan to Tehran and Tabriz, where the Qajar court and administration were major consumers and patrons of various crafts. Equally detrimental to the crafts of Isfahan was the cheaper mass-produced European merchandise that flooded the Persian markets in ever increasing quantities throughout the 19th century.
Some crafts disappeared or were significantly reduced due to changes in fashion, market demand, and technology. In particular, changes in fashion hurt those crafts that produced various kinds of embroideries that were only used in traditional clothes and home decorations which were no longer worn or used after 1925.
The result was that in number, output, and quality the craftsmen in Isfahan, like elsewhere in Iran, were on the verge of extinction.
In the 1930s, in an attempt to preserve and encourage the local production of handicrafts, the government established a school of arts and crafts (Honarestān) in Isfahan. The growing economy after 1950 had a further positive impact in the area of handicrafts. Between 1952 and 1962 the number of craftsmen doubled, while their output almost quadrupled. To provide structural support to the craftsmen, the government established the Handicrafts Center (Markaz-e sÂanāyeʿ-e dasti) in 1963, to provide loans to craftsmen for the purchase of raw materials and other inputs, organize training courses to acquaint craftsmen with the latest technical developments, to provide them with new designs and other ideas on how to improve their products, and to assist them in marketing their products around the world.
The emphasis on tradition received fresh impetus in the 1960s when Western-educated art students began to return home, eager to revive some of the styles and techniques of the past. Moreover, for emerging middle-class consumers, decorative value was as important as functionality of the crafts. Architectural decoration, which had begun with restoration of public monuments, was sustained by market demand on the part of neo-traditionalism. As the city grew into a center of tourist attraction, handicrafts flourished. Master craftsmen, working with their apprentices in small ateliers along the bazaar became a tourist attraction themselves.