A Treat for the Eye: Iznik Tiles

If you have ever been tourist in Istanbul, you have surely visited the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), which is an iconic building from the Ottoman era and famous for its impressive interior ornamented with turquoise Iznik tiles. Iznik tiles were used to beautify many Ottoman buildings, for instance the Harem in Topkapi Palace. With their bold colours and strong lines, Iznik tiles and pottery were produced chiefly between the 15th and 17th centuries and have been collectable almost since the day they were first produced.

Iznik tiles were made in the Ottoman town of Iznik, previously known as Nicaea, which lies some ninety kilometres southeast of Istanbul, and was the site of the pottery kilns of the Ottoman Empire. I have visited Iznik several times, as it is very close to my father’s birth town. It is a charming rural town situated by the Iznik Lake surrounded by olive trees as far as the eye can see.  The ruins of the ancient kilns can be experienced there. It is also an important landmark in Turkish as well as Christian history, as it hosts one of the earliest Christian churches, where the first Christian Council (Ecumenical Council) took place in 325 AD.

The colors of the Iznik tiles resemble those of semi-precious stones, such as the dark blue of lapis lazuli, the blue of turquoise, the red from corals and the green of emerald. The figures on the tiles and utensils reflect allegorical and symbolic characteristics and the flora and fauna of the region. Floral patterns of carnations, tulips, roses and hyacinths blend beautifully with the surrounding architecture.

If you are passionate about beautiful cultural art, you will love Iznik tiles. Even if you are not planning a trip to Istanbul in the nearest future, you can enjoy some impressive pieces of Iznik ware at museums worldwide, for instance in London (British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum), in Paris (Louvre) or even in my home town Copenhagen (Davids Samling). If you are in Istanbul, I will recommend to visit the Cinili Kösk in Topkapi Palace, Sadberk Hanim Museum and the Mosque of Rustem Pasha.

If you want to explore this art further and get more detailed information about the methods and styles, I will recommend a couple of books with lovely visuals and detailed information. They will look good on your coffee table, too.

Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics, by Walter B. Denny

Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, by Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby