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Iznik Excavations

Iznik Excavations

3 May 2022

İznik, which occupies a prominent position in the Ottoman art of earthenware and tiles, is located in the Marmara region, east of Lake İznik, in a green belt of olive groves and vineyards, surrounded by Roman walls. Being an ancient settlement, its history can be traced back to 6th century BC. İznik, which we have begun to know better with the publications on Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments, where two scientific excavations in the nearby surroundings joined the limited research on prehistoric periods, is known as an important production center for tiles and earthenware. İznik came under Roman rule in 72 BC, hosted two important ecumenical councils during the Byzantine period, became the first Turkish capital in Anatolia after the victory of Malazgirt in 1071, changed hands after the First Crusade, became an alternative center when invaded by the Crusaders between 1204 and 1261 during the Latin occupation of Istanbul, and was conquered by Orhan Ghazi in 1331 to become a cultural center of the early Ottoman period. İznik, renowned especially in the 16th century for its tiles and works of earthenware, began to lose its former glory from the end of the 17th century, only beginning to develop with the founding of the Republic despite being at the beginning of the 20th century a merely small town.

The excavations in İznik, started in 1963 by Prof. Oktay Aslanapa outside the İznik city walls, were resumed in 1981 after a break between 1970 and 1980. These excavations, which are still going on today, provided important data about tiles and earthenware from the Ottoman period and made it possible to prove that the real production center of earthenware, given different names, was İznik. These findings, the workshop-furnace areas and the technology used were published in many detailed publications. The connection of Turkish tiles and earthenware, whose development trajectory can be traced back to Asia and Anatolia, with Ottoman tiles and earthenware was unearthed during these excavations.

During the excavations in İznik, 338 artifacts were recorded in the inventory with 4,135 survey pieces also examined, each assigned a descriptive tag. Although most of the discoveries were earthenware, among remarkable findings were two waste pieces of the mihrab border tiles of the Süleymaniye Mosque found in the kiln ruins in the workshop area, which are considered to represent the beginning of the embossed red color in the tiles of the 16th century, and glazed bricks and square tiles with different cross sections. Among some waste pieces that had not yet been glazed, the presence of pieces revealing the assembly characteristics of wall tiles was noticeable like inscription tiles writ-large  (‘Anadolu Toprağının Hazinesi Çini’ (Tiles, Treasure of the Anatolian Lands), Belgin Demirsar Arlı and Ara Altun, pp.29-30).

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