The History of Tiles: Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution
Today, most homes have at least some tiles: on roofs, bathroom and laundry floors, in bathroom backsplashes and kitchen backsplashes, lining shower walls, and elsewhere in the home. But when did using tiles become commonplace?
Until a century ago, the only tile used in Western society was to adorn important public buildings and spaces as well as the homes of wealthy citizens.
The use of tiles dates back thousands of years, and archaeologists have found forms of ceramic tile dating to twenty five thousand years ago. Used to beautify both exterior and interior spaces, tiles have been manufactured from natural stone, ceramic, and even glass for millennia.
Tile as we know it was first used at least seven thousand years ago in ancient Egypt; these were made from clay and mud, and by 2,500 BC glass tiles were popular. Manufacturing man-made tiles was an art demonstrated to exception by Babylonian and Assyrian culture. Over the ensuing centuries, man-made tiling was mastered by artisans in Persia, China, Rome, Greece, India, Syria, and Tunisia. Additionally, tiles hewn from marble and other natural stone varieties were increasingly popular for grand architectural masterpieces. Roman ruins prove that tile was very important as a material in Roman buildings. Tile work has traditionally been both functional and decorative.
Natural stone tile also has an illustrious history. Marble tile has been used on monuments and buildings since antiquity. It is believed by many historians that the Egyptian pyramids were originally, far back in antiquity, lined in white marble and that the Great Pyramid actually had a capstone which may possibly have been made of marble.
The Greeks were fascinated with marble, and it was they who brought marble into personal use for the masses. Mosaic marble tiles were very popular.
The Romans followed the Greeks’ example and created buildings of bricks and mortar then lined them with marble tiles or panels, as well as mosaic floors.
Medieval tile production was strongly associated with palaces and monasteries, with most tiles made by potters. These were made of red clay with lead glazes.
As Islamic tile mosaic art was being mastered in the Middle East with tin glazing, Chinese artisans created distinct glazes for tiles and these were adopted by the English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. Vibrant colors were very popular. The Americas also jumped on board the trend, and Mexican tile is to this day renowned for handmade tiles.
Porcelain tile from China was exported to the rest of the world in the 1600’s and “Delftware” was born.
Today we have the best of both worlds: natural stone tiles, man-made tiles, and marble or travertine mosaic tiles for household use…