History of Tiles from India, Europe, and the Islamic World

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Tiles are thin objects, usually rectangular or square in shape. A tile is a carved piece of hard-wearing material such as stone, ceramic, baked clay, metal, or glass, generally used for covering floors, roofs, walls, and tabletops.

Hindu India

Complex tiles have been discovered in archaeological sites dating back to 3000 B.CE. at Kalibangan, modern-day Rajasthan (from India), with rooms featuring patterned clay tile floors, also found at Balakot and Ahladino, near Ancient Karachi in Early India. These Ancient Tiles had geometric circular patterns. Indus Valley Civilization has numerous shreds of evidence of regular use of complex tiles in palaces and places of worship.
India has numerous ancient tiles and patterns that are still in use today; this includes Athangudi tiles, Terracotta, Kota stone, and Cuddapah.

The ancient Middle East

The oldest evidence of glazed brick was discovered in the Elamite Temple at Chogha Zanbil. It was dated to the 13th-century BEC. Colored and glazed bricks were utilized to prepare low reliefs in Ancient Mesopotamia, most popularly Ishtar Gate of Babylon (ca. 575 BCE), now partly reconstructed in Berlin, with parts elsewhere. Mesopotamian artisans were imported for the Persian Empire palaces, such as Persepolis.

The utilization of sun-dried bricks or adobe was the primary building method in Mesopotamia, where river mud was discovered in abundance along the Euphrates and Tigris. Here the lack of stone may have been an incentive to promote the technology of making kiln-fired bricks to use as a natural alternative. To strengthen fences made from sun-dried bricks, fired bricks started to be used as an outer protective skin for more important buildings like palaces, temples, gates, and city walls.

Islamic World

Old Islamic mosaics in Iran consist largely of geometric decorations in mausoleums and mosques made of glazed brick. Standard turquoise tiling becomes popular in the 10th-11th century CE and is used mainly for Kufic inscriptions on mosques. Seyyed Mosque in Isfahan ( 1122 CE), Dome of Maraqeh (1147 CE) and the Jame Mosque of Gonabad (1212 CE) are among the medieval examples.

The Persian tilework’s golden age started during the Timurid Empire. In the moraq technique, single-color tiles were split into small geometric pieces and molded by putting liquid plaster between them. After hardening, artists assembled these panels on the walls of buildings.


Medieval Europe made significant use of painted tiles, producing extremely elaborate schemes, of which few have remained. Artists depicted religious and secular stories. The whimsical tiles with Old Testament scenes displayed on the floor in Jan van Eyck’s 1434 CE Annunciation in Washington are examples. The 14th century CE “Tring tiles” in the British Museum show youth scenes from the Life of Christ, perhaps for a wall rather than a floor, while their 13th century CE “Chertsey Tiles”, though from an abbey, show displays of Richard the Lionheart battling with Saladin in extremely high-quality work. Artists used medieval letter tiles to create Christian inscriptions on antiquated church floors.

The Victorian era saw a great revival in tilework, mainly as part of the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Patterned tiles were now mass-produced by machine and reliably leveled for floors, and cheap to produce, particularly for schools, churches, domestic hallways, bathrooms, and public buildings.

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