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İznik's Tiled Beauty
İznik tile makers believe that their tiles have magical properties. There is one fairly sound explanation for this (alongside any number of unsound ones): İznik tiles, made from soil that's found only in the area, have a very high level of quartz, an element believed to have soothing effects. It's not just the level of quartz that makes İznik tiles unique, though. The original tiles also have distinctive patterns and colors: predominantly blue, then green and red, reflecting the colors of precious stones. The patterns are inspired by local flora—flowering trees or tulips. These days artists use different colors and designs as well as the traditional ones.
İznik became a center for the ceramics industry after the 15th-century Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. To upgrade the quality of native work, Sultan Selim I (ruled 1512–15) imported 500 potters from Tabriz in Persia. The government-owned kilns were soon turning out exquisite tiles with intricate motifs of circles, stars, and floral and geometric patterns, in lush turquoise, green, blue, red, and white. Despite their costliness, their popularity spread through the Islamic world, until the industry went into decline in the 18th century.
İznik tiles are expensive—more so than those produced in the rival ceramics center of Kütahya, 120 km (72 mi) farther south. A single tile costs about $20, and the price of a plate varies between $30 and $300. İznik tiles are made of better-quality stone, with a higher quartz content, so they're heavier and more durable, making them ideal for decorating large spaces, from airports to mosques. They're all handmade, with no artificial colors, and the designs tend to be more intricate and elegant. The tile-makers' street, near the city center, has a series of small shops next to each other. The shops are fun to visit: they're workshops as well as sales points, and you'll usually find someone drawing or painting tiles.
Süleyman Paşa Medresesi. Once an early Ottoman theology school, this building now houses a tile and ceramic bazaar with 10 workshops. They're grouped around a peaceful courtyard where you can enjoy a cup of tea or a Turkish coffee. Maltepe Cad. 27, İznik, 16860. Apr.–Oct., daily 10–6:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 11–4 or 5.
The İznik Training and Education Foundation. Founded in the 1990s to revive the art of tile-making, this establishment fashions large orders, often for overseas delivery. Even if you are not commissioning a job, you can see the beautiful craftsmanship and wander in the lavender fresh gardens. They sponsor summer music courses also, which take place around the complex. Sahil Yolu, Vakıf Sok. 13, İznik, 16860. 0224/757–6025. www.iznik.com. Weekdays 8–6.
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