| Iranian Tiles from Past to Present |
With an ancient history and civilization in art and an impressive background in pottery, as well as large reserves of raw materials, Iran was a suitable ground for tile and mosaic industry at the end of the 2nd millennium BC.
Archaeological excavations revealed glazed bricks in addition to the glazed pottery in Chogha Zanbil, Susa, and other ancient sites in Iran. Mosaic making technique and industry - compositing small colored stones in a geometric pattern and with various beautiful designs - reached its peak of progress and development at this time. The cup found in Marlik excavations is an excellent and complete example. This mosaic cup, made of combination of colorful stones with double-wall design, is called “thousand-flowers” in technical term and is equal to fretwork in terms of work quality.
Octagram and cross tiles – 13th Century AD – Emamzadeh Jafar, Damghan
Some samples of tile industry were related to Achaemenid palace and dated back to 400 BC were found in Susa and are now available in French museums.
Decoration remained from Achaemenid shows the use of colorful glazed and painted bricks. The bodies of Susa and Persepolis structures are arranged with such a combination. Two interesting examples of this type of tile, known as “Lions and Shooters,” were obtained in Susa. The decorative tiles were also used to make inscriptions. The original color of tiles context of Achaemenid period was often yellow, green, and brown and the glaze over bricks was made of baked stucco and soil.
After the spread of Islam, the tile art gradually became one of the most important decorating and covering factors for stability of various structures, particularly the religious buildings. From early Islamic period, Iranian tile-setters and tile-makers, like other Iranian artists, have been pioneers. According to Islamic historians, they took their various methods of tile art to as far as conquered countries, namely Spain.
Tile work is a pleasant way of architectural decorating in all Islamic lands. Development of tiles began from small colored external elements in brick facades and led to entire cover of historical monuments in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries AD.
In decorations of the first centuries of Islamic architecture, turquoise and azure colored tiles were common and widely used along with unglazed bricks. In this period, tile was initially used to decorate the upper part of minarets and to highlight the religious statements for readability. But it gradually made its way to decoration of buildings: geometric designs with symmetric flower-plants were mixed in the context and transparent colors were gradually used.
Iranian artists created a type of “moaragh” (streaky) tile through combining different-colored tiles and mixing adobes of simple and monochromatic tiles of pre-Islamic era with diverse colors and making a type of “seven colors” tile. Moreover, they combined simple tiles with brick and plaster and made a type of tile called “Moaghal” (stronghold). Therefore, from the eleventh century, few constructions can be seen that have not been decorated through one of the mentioned three methods or with various colored tiles.
Golden tile – 11th Century AD - Kashan
In the Safavid period, tile craft reached its peak of progress so that the tile-works of Shah Abbas time in Isfahan are still unique in terms of beauty and color stability. An example of this tile-work is present in Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque in Isfahan which is the world’s most beautiful moaragh.Safavid mosques and schools are generally decorated with a cover of tiles both inside and outside. While the use of moaragh tiles was ongoing, Shah Abbas, who was hasty to see his incomplete religious buildings, encouraged the use of seven colors tile rapid technique.
In the Safavid era, seven colors tile was largely used in Isfahan’s palaces and installing rectangular tiles inside large frames created exquisite scenes with portrait elements and different personalities.
But oral education and transmission of traditional arts within families or guilds have resulted in elimination of many innovative traditional techniques of tile-setting or tile-work in present time.
The tile is still beautiful and valuable. But nowadays in Iran, the use of traditional tiles is limited to religious monuments or those buildings that insist to pretend traditional. Most of what is built is an imitation of past monuments in a lower level and a trace of creativity can be hardly seen. Spread of Western culture in the native culture and the resulting historical discontinuity has led tile, as a traditional element, not to properly link and function with modern architecture and is mostly considered as a museum issue.
Seven colored tile – 14th Century AD – Iran
Modern Ceramic and Tile Industry in IranMore than half a century passes since the establishment of the first modern tile production factory in Iran. The first industrial tile producer in Iran was registered in 1957 and was utilized in 1960.
Until 1960, ceramic was produced manually. Since 1951, Iranian craftsmen gradually began to think about reviving this old industry and by founding tile-maker unions in 1963, it began to promote. Potential and abilities of the industry in Iran has led to fluctuating but rapid growth of this industry over the past 52 years, such that the production of 500 thousand square meters in 1960 is reached to approximately 300 million square meters (600-fold) at present.
During the past decade, three billion dollars has been invested in the industry. Now, 40 thousand people are employed directly in the tile and ceramic and sanitary ware industries in Iran and currently more than 100 companies are involved in the production of tile and ceramic.
According to the latest figures, in 2011 the production of tile and ceramic was over 270 million square meters which shows 22 percent growth than before.
Iran is ranked the seventh country in the world in terms of tile and ceramic exports. High volume of construction and demand for housing made Iran the eighth consumer of tile and ceramic in the world. Meanwhile, per capita consumption of tiles is 4.2 m2 in Iran and about 8.5 m2 in the world.
Glazed tile with snake, rabbit, and turtle design – painted for Marvels of Creatures and Strange Things Existing, written by Zakaria Qazwini – 13th Century AD