Written by Filiz Altun

Water-earth-fire trio met with skills of Anatolian people eight thousands years ago and ceramics emerged. As centuries passed, a vast cultural accumulation has been formed from amphora to mosaics.

An ancient tradition born and evolved in Anatolia: Ceramics. This concept, defining objects such as vases, bowls,
pottery, mosaic and porcelain made up of earth baked under high temperature, has an important function in illuminating history. Ceramics, bearing traces of countless civilizations which took roots in Anatolia such as Hittites, Lydians, Byzantine and Seljuk Empires, have appeared before us in distinct forms throughout the history. As first ceramic objects were made in Çatalhöyük around 6000 BC, Western civilization waited for two more millennia to make the first pottery. Similarly, ceramic pieces unearthed in Hacılar and Alacahöyük which are among the oldest settlements, date back to 6000 BC. These objects are considered as the oldest authentic artifacts in the ceramics field. Ceramic, a green invention with a strong artistic aspect has been essential for humanity throughout the history, and has constantly been improved at the service of humanity.

According to Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Head of Ceramics and Glass Design Department Prof. Süleyman
Aydan Belen, Anatolia is not the oldest ceramic center in the world. Belen claims that ceramic examples dating back to 12 thousand years ago, were unearthed in various states in China. Some historical sources indicate that ceramic was invented and used by some Turkmen clans in the Central Asia 10 thousand years ago. Anatolia may not be the oldest ceramic center in the world; however, today it is still a pioneer in the field with an eight thousand years of history in which ceramic tradition was continued. You may witness the great ceramic culture in Anatolia in museums all across Turkey. Istanbul Archaeology, Ankara Anatolian Civilizations, Izmir Archaeology and Ethnography and Antalya, Bodrum, Çorum museums are just some of those museums. As Turks settled in Anatolia, first Seljuks, later Beyliks and Ottomans continued to improve ceramics, a historical legacy of humanity and spread it around the world. At the hands of the Ottomans, ceramic was transformed into mosaic art which is an aesthetic wonder.
Particularly İznik has become a school with worldwide renown as the apex of mosaic tradition. So we visited İznik
to observe the admirable mosaic and ceramic culture on site.

We see less and less olive trees we followed for kilometers, and the peaceful blue of İznik Lake finally becomes visible. We enter İznik that harbors its eight centuries long glorious history within city walls, through Lefke Gate. The 11 meters high and nearly five kilometers long walls with 144 towers and 16 gates, were built in the Hellenistic period. Mausoleums of Ibrahim and Halil Pasha from Çandarlı family, a name identified with İznik, rise at the right side of the road. Green Mosque dating back to 1378, a most elegant structure among the group of mosques behind the mausoleums, is named after its minaret decorated with blue-green mosaics and zigzag patterns. Suleiman Pasha Madrasah greets us ahead on the left. Mosaic and ceramic workshops are lined up in the cloister of the madrasah built by the command of Orhan Ghazi’s son Suleiman Pasha in 1332. You may both observe how masters work and buy souvenirs here. There are tens of workshops on the streets around the madrasah. However masters informed us that as İznik mosaics have become popular again in the recent years, numerous crooks arrived in the city to sell fake mosaics at astronomical prices. Nevertheless many mosaic and ceramic artists have settled here following their passion for earth, fire and colors. In addition to being a prominent mosaic and ceramic center, İznik is a castle for belief tourism in Turkey. Touring the center of this historic city, you might come across buildings which have major significance for the Christian world. For instance, if you follow Kılıçaslan Avenue you will see Hagia Sophia Church. Church built in the 5th century AC, hosted council meetings where major decisions for Christians were taken. Floor mosaics, frescoes and sepultures in the church today serving as a museum, are worth seeing.

Ceramic artist Adil Can Güven we met during our İznik trip, following the glorious traces of the past, tells us that
this place is a seven thousand years old ceramic center. Güven says İznik ceramics were initially produced in Late Roman Period and throughout Byzantine, Seljuk, Anatolian Beyliks and Ottoman periods. We ask Master Adil, a craftsman for 35 years, how he began this profession: “My passion for ceramic began in Kütahya. There were good ceramic masters in my family. I worked with them as an apprentice. Later I worked in numerous ceramic workshops in Marmara Region, mainly in Kütahya and Çanakkale. Back then there were wood ovens. I got closely acquainted with the relation of earth, fire and paint with labor, talent and skill.” Güven says that İznik is a seven thousand years old ceramic center, and ceramics made as early as Chalcolithic Age are displayed at İznik Museum. Relaying that each civilization established in the region throughout the history has an authentic ceramic style, Master Adil says that the real value of İznik lies in the interaction between the ceramics of these civilizations. Güven who informed us on ceramics like a teacher, spoke as follows: “İznik mosaic making tradition is based on ceramic art which dates back to the Neolithic Age and has developed within millennia. Ottomans initially started making mosaics in the 14th century. It is known that there were around 300 ceramic and mosaic workshops in that century. Mosaic workshops had their golden age in İznik during the Tulip period.” As we thank Master Adil for the valuable information and say our goodbyes, we feel glad that we visited İznik. These lands where beauty, aesthetics and art integrate with myths, have given and will continue to give life to high-quality Turkish ceramic products.


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Filiz Altun

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