These are the words of the 17th century Turkish writer Evliya Çelebi in his 10-volume Book of Travels, and they are no exaggeration. From the mid-14th until the end of the 17th century Iznik was the centre of tile and ceramic production in Ottoman Turkey. The town is still surrounded by its Roman walls, 11 metres high and four and a half kilometres in length, and to enter the town you can choose one of the three ancient gateways, known as the Istanbul, Inegöl or Lefke gates.
As you walk through the streets of Iznik, with its many historic buildings dating from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times, you can stop to visit the ceramic studios and hear the story of Iznik's famous pottery and tiles over a glass of tea.
The oldest Iznik ware was monochrome red paste pottery, mostly blue, green or brown. In the mid-15th century blue and white ware made of a hard paste of a quality close to porcelain began to be produced, their designs including split-leaf rumi motifs and flowers. Stylised animal figurines were also made. From the early 16th century the Iznik potters concentrated on the manufacture of tiles for decorating the interiors of buildings.
Later in this century the famous coral red appeared, set off by cobalt blue and turquoise in vivid polychrome designs. At the same time naturalistic flowers and other plants became the predominant motifs, including roses, tulips, carnations, lilies, calendulas, hyacinths, grapevines and cypress trees. Iznik ceramics and tiles reached their zenith at this time.
Many examples of Iznik ware are to be seen today in museums around the world, such as the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London. Today Iznik's potters still produce plates, bowls, cups, vases, jugs, lamps and many other objects which perpetuate the spectacular tradition of Iznik ceramics.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries the Iznik tile potteries produced almost exclusively for the Ottoman court, both to adorn the palace itself and also the mosques and other buildings founded by sultans and statesmen. Meanwhile Iznik dishes and other ware was sent abroad as diplomatic gifts, forming the nucleus of many present collections. However, as the economic power of the court diminished, the potters were obliged to to accept other commissions in order to survive. Iznik ware is characterised by strikingly lovely designs and superb use of colour, and was as highly prized at the time it was made as it is today.
Iznik's potteries gradually declined from the late 17th century onwards, and eventually closed down altogether. The potters dispersed and the secrets of their craft were lost. But today the craft has been revived thanks to the efforts of the Iznik Educational Foundation. Research has rediscovered the secrets of the beautiful colours, glazes and other techniques used in the 16th century, and a new generation of craftsmen has been trained at the Iznik Tile and Ceramic Works. The outstanding quality ware produced here today has again made Iznik ceramics sought after by institutions and collectors in Turkey and around the world.