Currently known as Iznik in Turkey, the city of Nicaea (Greek Νίκαια) was founded in 310 BCE by the Macedonian king Antigonus. Lying at the eastern tip of Lake Iznik, south of Izmit, it was originally an important Roman and Byzantine town, which fell to the Seljuks in 1078 and subsequently to the Ottomans in 1331. The city hosted church councils to deal with issues that had brought about turmoil and skirmish in the Byzantine empire, such as the controversy surrounding the impacts of religious sects upon the Byzantine society. As a strategic location, Iznik handed down to us evidence of monumental defensive architecture, however it is nowadays known for its pottery and tiles trade, which keeps flourishing from the 15th century onwards, developing a style having exerted a stark influence on European arts. Handmade ceramics by Ottomans were in great demand, making the history of the” most colorful and decorative pottery ever made”, as put by Sir Harry Garner, a leading example of grandiose human contribution to the arts. Being the heart of ceramic production for almost 800 years, the Iznik pottery constitutes a very distinctive cultural element of Istanbul, adorning, from the 15th century onwards, imperial buildings and mosques.
In its initial form, the Iznik pottery followed the Seljuk empire antecedents, but the Iznik vessels soon adapted the much appreciated Chinese porcelain, developing, however, their own distinctive style. Their originality was such that the Iznik vessels outshone their competitor in the markets. Blue and white bowls, vases and lamps with floral designs were made, further incorporating delicate details of calligraphic ornamentation. Colors added to the traditional Iznik palette of blue and white, were the turquoise, mauve, purple, green and exquisite coral red, most of which prepared from metal oxides, reflecting the shades of semi-valuable gems. (x)
Square glazed grey earthenware tile decorated in polychrome with a design of a pheasant perched on a flowering tree, within a lobed panel with arabesques at the corners, Turkey (Iznik), late 16th century
Section of Iznik wall tiles (1570 - 1590) with a composition that constitutes a basic decorative unit which, when repeated, may cover any wall surface. A similar wall composition can be found in the Mausoleum of the Martyr Eyyub in Istanbul. Turkey, Iznik, circa 1580.
n the Middle East, tilework was originally developed as a decorative cladding for brick structures. After 1400 its use spread to Turkey, where tiles were applied to stone buildings using mortar. The most accomplished type had colourful designs painted on a brilliant white ground. Tiles from the Turkish city of Iznik soon became very popular.