When entering a mosque or palace constructed during the Ottoman era, one is immediately struck by the beautiful decorative tiles that adorn the walls. The stunning colors of the Iznik tiles are captivating, making one want to reach out and touch them as if the flowers depicted on them were still in bloom.
Lakeside Town of Iznik
Iznik, the production center of decorative tiles, is a lakeside town in the northwestern Anatolian Peninsula that can be visited by car from Istanbul in a few hours in modern times.
Surrounded by mountains and forests and blessed with high quality clay, Iznik was already producing pottery during the Roman period, simple ceramics made of red clay for daily use. In the late 14th century, they began to produce ceramics painted in cobalt blue on a white ground, incorporating the colors and designs of Chinese porcelain, which was popular in Middle Eastern markets. In addition, the arrival of talented Iranian potters led to the rapid development of the technique, and by the 15th century, Iznik was a rapidly growing ceramic production center.
Iznik is a town located on the shores of a lake in the northwest region of Anatolia, easily accessible by car from Istanbul. Known for its production of decorative tiles, the town has a rich history of pottery-making dating back to Roman times, producing simple ceramics made of red clay. In the 14th century, Iznik began producing ceramics with cobalt blue designs on a white background, drawing inspiration from Chinese porcelain popular in the Middle East. The addition of skilled Iranian potters also contributed to the town's growth as a ceramic production center by the 15th century.
History of Iznik Tiles
In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire expanded and conquered a large area including the Balkans, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and some parts of North Africa. They constructed various religious structures that included mosques, palaces, residences, and libraries and tiles became an essential part of Ottoman architecture. This resulted in an increased demand for tiles and orders for their production were given to Iznik, a center for ceramic production, in partnership with the imperial workshops.
The early tiles produced in Iznik were made of quartz and coated with white clay, and had cobalt blue designs, reflecting the influence of Chinese porcelain.
During the mid-16th century, as production reached its peak, a unique Ottoman style emerged with regards to design and color. Brightly colored underglaze paintings featuring semi-stylized flowers like tulips, carnations, hyacinths, and roses were depicted, and the main style utilized rich colors like red, green, cobalt blue, and "tomato red" turquoise blue. Throughout the 17th century, the height of the Ottoman Empire's prosperity, Iznik tiles continued to be of high quality, craftsmanship, and beauty.
However, as the Ottoman Empire declined in the mid-17th century, the quality of Iznik tiles started to drop. The designs became dull and repetitive, the vibrant colors faded, and the once bright "tomato red" became a dull brown. Due to the decreased quality, orders for Iznik tiles declined, leading to the eventual closure of the Iznik workshop by the 18th century.