As much as they are used nowadays, tiles are not a recent invention. They have been used for at least 4000 years, and it was man's desire to build both aesthetic and durable living spaces, which led to the invention of tiles. Originally made of clay, their manufacturing process evolved with time and nowadays they can be made of stones, glass and natural minerals. Rather used in the beginning to cover roofs, tiles' uses evolved as well: due to their durability, they are perfect to cover all sorts of surfaces, from floors to kitchen countertops. But what is their history?
It all began in ancient Greece, where thatched roofs were replaced by fired tiles, especially at the temples of Apollo and Poseidon. This happened between 700 and 600 BC and the new fashion spread rapidly within the whole Mediterranean area, especially in Greece, Western Asia and Italy. The technique of the roof tiles is strongly bound to the rise of monumental architecture in Greece. They appeared in response to the need of roofs well protected against rain, but also aesthetically appealing, as mud bricks were turning obsolete. With the emergence of churches and other important public buildings, the use of floor tiles rose. They were, however, a luxury good and only the wealthy could afford them.
If they started as common pieces of clay, tiles became more and more sophisticated once they began to be tin-glazed. And this innovation was brought to Europe by the Islamic peoples who settled especially in the Iberian Peninsula. The Islamic conquests tried to spread the glory of the Islamic art and architecture, and the most beautiful pieces of Islamic art were mosaics and glazed tiles. They were originally used in Persia, in mosques and mausoleums, to adorn their interiors with sophisticated ornaments. It was during the 11 century BC that the typical turquoise
tiles became popular. They were firstly used for the inscriptions made on religious buildings, most of them taken from the holy book of Qur'an.
The Middle Ages were a prolific period for the development of tiles in Europe. They were most often painted, depicting religious and secular stories taken from the Old Testament. The Islamic influence became obvious in Portugal and Spain, where the art of azulejos flourished during the Baroque period. They were used to cover walls, rather than floors, and predominant were the blue and white nuances. The Netherlands is also important in this history: during the 16th century, local potters started to imitate Chinese porcelain models and created the renowned Delft pottery, which includes ceramic wall tiles. In France, they were called faience, and in Italy majolica.
But automated machines soon replaced potters and craftsmen, during the Victorian period, when tiles began to be produced at a large scale. This was not only a cheaper alternative, but also a faster one, and tiles began to be used in schools, churches, public buildings, and also people's homes. Tiles today are made of all materials found in nature, but one of them, which still holds an elegant and royal aspect, is marble.
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