I remember when Miguel and I used decorative tile on the backsplash in our kitchen. I was so excited because we were hosting the 50th wedding anniversary dinner for Miguel’s parents in our home. I wanted everything to look perfect.
The backsplash behind the stove had always been boring. It was showing wear after years of cooking, and I thought we could spruce it up with colorful tiles. We’re not experts on home improvement or anything, but Miguel’s pretty handy. He and his buddies built our back deck and patio. And our backsplash is so small, I didn’t think it would take too long.
I was wrong (not that I told Miguel that).
I love our backsplash now. But, at the time, I remember thinking it was a way bigger project than we’d bargained for. That’s why I was so amazed at all the intricate decorative tile we saw in the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
It took us two weekends to finish one backsplash with maybe 30 tiles. There are 20,000 tiles in just the high ceiling of the Blue Mosque!
A (very) Brief History of Decorative Tile
Anyway, I got to wondering about decorative tile. I use them as wall decor outdoors on my patio, indoors on my walls, and, of course, the infamous backsplash. But who first thought of them? According to Wikipedia, the earliest were from Greece, where tiles began to replace thatched roofs at the temples of Apollo and Poseidon between 700-650 BC.
The technique spread rapidly, and was common from Greece to Italy within 50 years. I don’t know how it spread so fast without the internet or television. I guess good ideas traveled fast!
The Turkish tiles I like so much are newer. The earliest ones date back to the 8th or 9th century. The people who made them were influenced by Persian artisans who lived in what we now know as Iran. Later, Turks started embellishing buildings with tile.
Gradually artisans used more colors and complex patterns. The ones I love in the Topkapı Palace date from the 15th to 18th century. They “paint” the walls, floors and ceilings with floral or geometric patterns.
Decorating with Tiles NOW
If you like decorative tile and want to see how people use it indoors and outdoors in more contemporary ways, check this article from Samantha Schoech. It’s on one one of my favorite home decorating websites, Houzz.com.