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x0x Chameleon patterned Iznik tiles
By Hande Demirkaya
'Its china bowls, plates and jugs are precious, and all the decorated
tiles adorning buildings throughout the land of the Ottomans are made
in this city of Iznik. Such lovely chameleon patterned tiles are made
that language cannot suffice to describe them.'
These are the words of the 17th century Turkish writer Evliya Celebi
in his 10-volume Book of Travels, and they are no exaggeration. From
the mid-14th until the end of the 17th century Iznik was the centre of
tile and ceramic production in Ottoman Turkey. The town is still
surrounded by its Roman walls, 11 metres high and four and a half
kilometres in length, and to enter the town you can choose one of the
three ancient gateways, known as the Istanbul, Inegol or Lefke gates.
As you walk through the streets of Iznik, with its many historic
buildings dating from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times, you can stop
to visit the ceramic studios and hear the story of Iznik's famous
pottery and tiles over a glass of tea.
The oldest Iznik ware was monochrome red paste pottery, mostly blue,
green or brown. In the mid-15th century blue and white ware made of a
hard paste of a quality close to porcelain began to be produced, their
designs including split-leaf rumi motifs and flowers. Stylised animal
figurines were also made. From the early 16th century the Iznik
potters concentrated on the manufacture of tiles for decorating the
interiors of buildings.
Later in this century the famous coral red appeared, set off by cobalt
blue and turquoise in vivid polychrome designs. At the same time
naturalistic flowers and other plants became the predominant motifs,
including roses, tulips, carnations, lilies, calendulas, hyacinths,
grapevines and cypress trees. Iznik ceramics and tiles reached their
zenith at this time.
Many examples of Iznik ware are to be seen today in museums around the
world, such as the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.
Today Iznik's potters still produce plates, bowls, cups, vases, jugs,
lamps and many other objects which perpetuate the spectacular
tradition of Iznik ceramics
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries the Iznik tile potteries
produced almost exclusively for the Ottoman court, both to adorn the
palace itself and also the mosques and other buildings founded by
sultans and statesmen. Meanwhile Iznik dishes and other ware was sent
abroad as diplomatic gifts, forming the nucleus of many present
collections. However, as the economic power of the court diminished,
the potters were obliged to to accept other commissions in order to
survive. Iznik ware is characterised by strikingly lovely designs and
superb use of colour, and was as highly prized at the time it was made
as it is today.
Iznik's potteries gradually declined from the late 17th century
onwards, and eventually closed down altogether. The potters dispersed
and the secrets of their craft were lost. But today the craft has been
revived thanks to the efforts of the Iznik Educational Foundation.
Research has rediscovered the secrets of the beautiful colours, glazes
and other techniques used in the 16th century, and a new generation of
craftsmen has been trained at the Iznik Tile and Ceramic Works. The
outstanding quality ware produced here today has again made Iznik
ceramics sought after by institutions and collectors in Turkey and
around the world.
* Hande Demirkaya is a freelance writer.