Tiles can be found in homes all over the globe, from North Africa to South America to Scandinavia and they have a long, interesting history.
Everything has a history, even tiles! Have you ever wondered where these lovely design features originated from? They can be found all over the world in commercial and residential properties, in showrooms, leisure facilities and swimming pools. If you’re looking to purchase tiles you’ll probably have already realised just how many types and different designs are available.
Despite the fact that tiles of all types are all around us, a lot of people have never considered the long history of the humble and treasured ceramic tile. The history of ceramic tiles is long and interesting and you may find you’ll appreciate them a little bit more when you know something of that history.
In the beginning (around 3300 BCE), ancient cities like Babylon created bright blue, high sheen tiles, given their colour by a cobalt ore glaze. These tiles were used to create beautiful and colourful decoration within the ancient buildings and residences of the wealthy. Roughly around the same time period, the ancient Egyptians created similar tiles to line their embellished tombs and religious temples as well as many well-known pyramids.
The Shang Dynasty were thought to be the first to use tiles to build roofs, an amazing advance in building technology in areas prone to flooding and torrential rain. The way that these tiles were made is the same way the famous Terracotta army was created, made to keep the famous Qin emperor safe. The soft clay was used to shape the tiles and then they would be baked at high temperatures in kilns to make them solid.
You probably wouldn’t have guessed that religion would have an influence on the history of the ceramic tile, but it does, and an interesting one at that. Because depictions of living things are not allowed in mosques and Islamic houses a tradition of creating beautifully patterned tiles developed and this craft eventually spread to Africa and India.
Influenced by the rest of the world; hotter countries like Spain and France would always use ceramic tiles when building properties combining both the Chinese influence of using them to build roofs and the Arabic influence of using them in creative, decorative ways.
When hospitals became more mainstream, the awareness of disease also increased, which led to many hospitals using ceramic tile. The fact they are easy clean meant most medical facilities used the tiles as a way to maintain hygiene standards. The popularity then spread into modern times with many of us using ceramic tiles for bathrooms and kitchens as well as for decorative purposes.
It’s a rich and interesting history that really casts a new light on this humble, practical creation.
So next time you’re having a shower or walking past a beautiful display of wall tiles, cast your mind back to ancient China or Arabia and remember where it all started.