Ŭznik is located on the banks of the lake of the same name in
the province of Bursa in the northwestern part of Anatolia. In antiquity it lay within the
borders of the Bithynian region. One legend says that the town was established on the
return of the God Dionysus from India. According to another legend, Ŭznik was colonized
by the soldiers who escorted Alexander the Great (356-323
B.C.) during his conquests.
When Antigonas Monophthalmus founded the city in 316 B.C., there was
already a settlement of the Bottiaei people here, called Elikore, but Antigonas called the
town Antigoneia after himself. After the battle of Ipsus (301 B.C.), one of Alexanders
generals, Lysimachus (360-281 B.C.), took the city and named it after his wife Nikaia, the
daughter of the Macedonian leader, Antipatros. Throughout the centuries the name Nikaia
went through slight phonetic changes, becoming first Nicea and eventually Ŭznik in
In the course of its history from 316 B.C. to the present-day, Ŭznik presents a
picture of a city which has undergone great cultural and architectural changes. In the
true sense of the word, Ŭznik is an archaeological and historical art laboratory of the
Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks.
Following the recent excavations of Ŭznik kilns on the site, Prof. Aslanapa and Prof.
Altun have clearly observed that the Ottoman ceramics in Ŭznik had a Seljuk background.
The latest research and analysis have revealed that the white pasted hard ceramic consists
of the same material as the soft porcelain used in the Ottoman Period. At first, blue and
white were the prevailing colors in the pots and wall tiles in this category. During the
16th century, the turquoise was introduced. The embossed red of the wall tiles of the
mihrab of Süleymaniye Mosque (1555) marks the peak of
Ottoman tiles and ceramics. During the Ottoman era, the Ŭznik tiles and pottery were
exported to other countries via the Island of Rhodes, which was then under Turkish rule.
Evliya Çelebi, the famous Turkish traveller, mentions
the existence of 300 workshops in Ŭznik during the 17th century. This number, also
justified by the excavations, gives us an idea of the importance of tile production in
this town. Various reasons have been put forward with regard to the decline of tile
production in Ŭznik. The most widely accepted theory is that the demand from Istanbul for
the use of these tiles in major public buildings such as mosques and palaces had fallen
during the period of decline of the empire. In the beginning of the 20th century, the
population of Ŭznik was composed of Turks as well as small ethnic minorities such as
Greek and Armenians involved in farming and silk production.
During the Turkish war of Independence, Ŭznik went through turbulent times. The town
was invaded by Greeks in September 1920, and towards the final stages of the war it was
burnt to the ground by the defeated invaders and the inhabitants had to flee. With the
declaration of the Turkish Republic, Ŭznik became home for an influx of Turkish
immigrants from Greece and Thrace.
The Characteristics of Ŭznik Tiles
Ŭznik Tiles are admired worldwide for the following reasons:
- Ŭznik Tiles are made on a very clean white base with hard backs and underglazed
decorations in a unique technique.
- 70-80 percent of an Ŭznik tile is composed of quartz and quartzite. Its beauty arises
from the harmonious composition of three successive quartz layers and a paste-slip-glaze
combination which is extremely difficult to bring together. The mixture of quartz, clay
and glaze disperses in a very wide thermic spectrum at 900 centigrade. After painstaking
research, the problem of the fluctuating thermal behavior of the tiles due to their quartz
and rock crystal composition is solved. The result is a tile made primarily out of a
semi-precious stone: quartz.
- Even though it may appear to be against the principle of "ceramic textural
unity", the porous structure of the tiles cause dilatation or shrinkage in hot, cold
or freezing conditions. It is said that this particular aspect of the structure
"allows it to breatle".
- In Ŭznik tiles, one can observe colors resembling those of semi-precious stones such as
the dark blue of lapis lazuli, the blue of turquoise, the redness of coral, the green of
- Some of the colors observed on the tiles and utensils, particulary the coral red, are
very hard to obtain and apply. To obtain all of these colors, the cornea white and opaque
sheen glazes are required. The slightly opaque quality of the glaze on the tiles absorbs
light and reduces strain on the eyes. It not only protects the tile but also help it
- The figures on the tiles and utensils reflect allegorical and symbolic characteristics
and the flora and fauna of the region. The geometrical designs can be interpreted almost
cosmologically as a general description or depiction of the world or the Universe. They
blend beautifully with the surrounding architectural constructions in which they are
found, and are never overpowering or overstated, but always tend towards a timeless
discretion and moderation.
- The inscriptions and the writings on the tiles never consist of egocentric or aggressive
texts; rather, they present the ideology and philosophy of Islam.
- The Foundation researchers have been using the classical Ŭznik tile designs on the
productions, reviving the mystery of the creation of the Ŭznik tile. Throughout the
production processes, the main objective is to master the traditional technological
methods rather than embrace those of our own day. In order to preserve the authenticity of
the Ŭznik tiles, the Ŭznik Foundation utilizes raw materials that are akin to those of
the 16th century.
Ŭznik Tiles, The Revival
Ŭznik became the center of worldwide attention once again when the year 1989 was
declared the year of Ŭznik. Several activities relating to Ŭznik took place; a
symposium, an international exhibition and the publication of two books. Finally, the
Ŭznik Foundation was established in September 1993.
Ŭznik Tiles Today
Ŭznik tiles reached their heyday in the 16th century, and the masterpieces produced at
that time are regarded as the most valuable specimens of the art of ceramics by the
leading museums of the world.
Ŭznik Kiln excavations, carried out for more than 20 years by the Istanbul University
Department of Archaeology and History of Art, give us clues as to the types of kilns and
ceramics used in the Art of Ŭznik tile making. In the Ŭznik Tiles Atelier opened in mid
1996, following the opening of the Ŭznik Foundation in 1993 and the Tile and Ceramic
Research Center in 1995, it is now possible to produce tile nearly equaling the quality of
those of the 16th century.
Obviously, to reach this point, many experiments wer made and everything about Ŭznik
tiles was investigated, sinc the old masters took the secrets to their graves, with the
resul that even the slightest clue to their manufacture lay conceale for centuries.
The composition of the tiles and the percentage of the components within the
microstructure of the material are carefully studied. The availability of these materials
and reserves within the region are considered.
Following the excavations, it is observed that Ŭznik tile production was fire high on
wastage owing to the large proportion of quartz in the ceramic. Similarly, a number of
experiments with the minerals in the area was carried on in the course of which thousands
of experimental plates were produced only to be broken and thrown away. The most
unfortunate setback the Foundation has had to face has been the absolute lack of
documentation regarding the process. Not even the names of the towns and villages where
the materials originated were known.
Thus, the conclusion was arrived at that only through the most meticulous scientific
research could a unified Ŭznik tile concept be formed.
In its efforts, the Ŭznik Foundation has received the support of scientific
foundations and NGO' s such as TÜBŬTAK, M.A.M. (Marmara Research Center), Ŭ.T.Ü.
(Ŭstanbul Technical University), Ŭ.Ü. (Ŭstanbul University), in Turkey, and Princeton
and M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the United States in a vast range of
The production of handmade tiles of the desired quality in this era of speed and
automation is a particularly difficult task.
Today, Ŭznik tiles are used as an architectural element in old and modern buildings by
the discriminating decorator and art-lover alike.
The Objective of the Foundation
The Ŭznik Foundation is established with the aim of introducing to the world the
cultural and artistic aspects and heritage of Ŭznik and its environs and transferring
this heritage to future generations through systematic educational programs. The Ŭznik
Foundation is composed of three entities: Vocational Center, Tile-Ceramics Research Center
and the Tile and Ceramics Atelier. It also has a liaison office in Kuruçeŝme, Istanbul.
The Ŭznik Foundation is primarily concerned with the revival of the traditional art of
underglazing. Presently, the Foundation is not only capable of reproducing 16th century
masterpieces, but also of continuing the tradition of the ancient masters in such a way
that the end product is equal or better in terms of quality. The support for all the work
comes from the aforesaid excavations, and from scientific research conducted by scholars.
It can be stated that the first successful examples have been highly appreciated in Turkey
as well as abroad.
It is of great importance that Ŭznik tile manufacture is adapted to presentday
technology, without spoiling the inherent quality and aesthetic value which have made the
16th century Ŭznik tile renowned in the world of ceramics. To this end, the Ŭznik
Foundation is sponsoring excavations and research on the archeology and art history of
Ŭznik. One other activity is to scan the inventories in museums and architectural works
of old Ŭznik tiles both in Turkey and abroad, and to establish a documentation center.
Each year the Foundation prepares calendars with different tile compositions taken from
historical buildings and source documents.
A second Ŭznik Tile Exhibition is being planned for 1999, ten years following the
first one, along with an exhibition of new examples on the occasion of the celebration of
the 700 th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire.
So far 70 young graduates, have been issued certificates by the Ŭznik Foundation on a
course on tile decoration given free of charge. A summer school is to be opened for
students both from Turkish and foreign Universities. The Ŭznik Foundation is also
planning a prospective University in Ŭznik with emphasis on archaeology, art history and
The Ultimate Goal, Ŭznik University:
Orhan Gazi (1326-1362) is known to be the founder of the first medrese
(theological college) in the Ottoman Empire.
He established medreses in Ŭznik, Bursa, Akçaova, Sapanca and Ŭzmit to
which the most renowned scholars or müderris of the period were appointed. This
led to the creation of other education centers in the Ottoman Period.
The conquest of Ŭznik in 1331 was followed by the opening of the first medrese and the
mosque in the city. Davudu Kayseri was appointed to the position of müderris at
the aforementioned institution in 1333. This was followed by the Süleyman Paŝa
Medresesi, which was built before 1357 and still survives in its original state and by the
Hayrettin Paŝa Medresesi the portico columns of which can be seen on the north of the
Green Mosque in Bursa.
The Ŭznik Foundation aims at restoring the site to its former importance as a cultural
center by the establishment of a university in Ŭznik.