Cool Hunting Video Presents: Iznik Tiles

Our video inside a workshop reviving the lost art of Turkish tiles

A celebrated Turkish art form dormant for more than 300 years, Iznik tiles play an integral role in Turkey’s Ottoman Empire history and the production of them today is a labor of love.

In 1993 economics professor Dr. Işıl Akbaygil visited some of Istanbul’s historic buildings and noticed that some of the tiles were as bright and clear as new, while others were dull and deteriorating. Research soon confirmed that these tiles were indeed special, though they hadn’t been made since the early 1700s and there was no historical record or documentation of how they were made.

Dedicated to reviving this lost art, she founded the Iznik Training and Education Foundation. It took around ten years for the Foundation, along with a host of government, preservation, research and university partners, to determine what made the tiles so unusual, to recreate the lengthy handmade production process, train local artisans and construct a manufacturing facility. Today the Iznik Foundation creates tiles for repair and restoration of historical buildings, pubic works (including large murals in Istanbul’s subway stations) and for private use.

The secret to the tiles is their composition, primarily ground quartz, which also makes up the bright glazes that adorn them. Quartz brings many purported health benefits, such as improved circulation and shielding from radiation, but they also have some practical features such as being temperature neutral (ideal for warm environments) and durable—these tiles are engineered to last 1,000 years.

Our video features Istanbul-based architectural historian Gökhan Karakuş, who takes us through the history and modern-day labor-intensive process of making these beautiful tiles.