Kütahya is situated about 200 kilometers south of Istanbul where these exquisite and colorful ceramic tiles, plates, cups and bowls, as well as decorative tile wall panels are made. The city of Kütahya in western Turkey is situated on the Porsuk River and is the capital of the Kütahya Province. Kütahya enjoys a long tradition dating back to ancient times making it famous for its ceramic products, such as tiles and ceramic ware, which are glazed and hand-painted in bright colors. These colorful ceramics are fashioned after the ceramics known as Iznik from the town of the same name that produced the tiles seen in the old mosques and palaces in Turkey from hundreds of years ago like Topkapi, Sultanahmet and many others. The ceramics of Iznik were highly prized because of their quality, intricate designs and extensive use by the Sultans. The ceramics produced today in Kütahya are excellent examples of these ceramics that found such wide-spread use in public and religious buildings for centuries. The ceramic producers in Kütahya also produce excellent ceramic ware that is more modern in nature and to be found in the finer hotels and restaurants in Turkey. The rural town of Iznik, once known as ancient Nicea, was an important cultural center during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. It was in Iznik in the early 16th century that an Imperial ceramic ware, now referred to as Iznik, was made for the Istanbul court of the Ottoman Sultan, the wealthiest and most powerful ruler in Europe. Originally inspired by Chinese pottery, Iznik ceramics were so beautiful that European collectors in the mid 19th century thought it came from Persia. Only until the 1920s did scholars finally realize and accept that Iznik ceramics were Ottoman, at last giving them the recognition as being made by Turkish potters into some of the world´s most beautiful designs. Iznik ceramics surviving to the present day adorn palaces and mosques; the largest collection of ceramics being at the British Museum. The old Nicea, once a capital of the East Roman Empire was an independent principality of the fragmented Byzantine Empire, founded in 1204 by Theodore I Lascaris from 1208–22. It served as a political and cultural center from which a restored Byzantium arose in the mid-13th century under Michael VIII Palaeologus. Theodore fled to Anatolia with other Byzantine leaders after the Latin Crusade conquest of Constantinople in 1204, establishing himself at Nicaea 40 miles or 64 kilometers to the southeast. Crowned emperor in 1208, Theodore gradually acquired control over much of western Anatolia. He and his successors sponsored a revival of Greek studies at their capital. The next Nicaean emperor was John Vatatzes, who sought to retake Constantinople before his rivals Theodore Angelus, despot of Epirus, or John Asen II of Bulgaria. He defeated Theodore at Klokotnitsa in Bulgaria in 1230. Between 1240 and 1250 he negotiated with the western Emperor Frederick II for help in reconquering Constantinople, but nothing came of their pact. Theodore II Lascaris and John IV Lascaris maintained Nicaean strength against the invading Mongols during their brief reigns and in 1261 a Nicaean general, Michael Palaeologus, retook Constantinople, where as Michael VIII, founded the last dynasty of the Byzantine emperors. It was in Nicea where the Iznik ceramics were first produced during the 15th and 16th centuries when it was at its most beautiful. Both the Rüstem Pasha in Istanbul and the Cinili Kösk at the Archeological Museum in Istanbul contain examples of these exquisite ceramics. Iznik today is a quiet sleep village, but still a fine traditional Turkish village situated next to a beautiful lake.
The largest collection of Iznik ceramics is in the British Museum and Iznik tiles may be seen in quantity in many buildings in Istanbul. Following the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in the early 14th century, Iznik pottery initially followed Seljuk Empire antecedents. After this initial period, Iznik vessels were made in imitation of Chinese porcelain, which was highly prized by the Ottoman sultans. As the potters were unable to make porcelain, the vessels produced were fritware, a low-fired body comprising mainly silica and glass. The originality of the potters was so admirable that their use of the Chinese originals has been described as an adaptation rather than imitation. Chinese ceramics had long been admired, collected and emulated in the Islamic world, but especially so in the Ottoman court and the Safavid court in Persia. By the mid-16th century, Iznik had its own style of floral and abstract motifs in tight designs making use of a limited palette. Decoration progressed from pure symmetry to subtle rhythms and the main development of Iznik pottery is said to have taken place during the second half of the 16th century, after the capture of the city of Tabriz in 1514 by the Ottoman Sultan in the Battle of Chaldiran, when the ceramic artisans of Tabriz were forcibly relocated to Iznik to practice their art. From the late 15th century, red earthenware from Iznik began to be replaced by a white body made of 80% silica, 10% glass frit and 10% white clay. Lead and sodium compounds were added to reduce the firing temperature. Fritware had been made in the Near East from the 13th century, but Iznik fritwares, achieving a white surface, were a major innovation. As the body was hard to work on the wheel, because of its lack of plasticity, vessels were seldom thrown in one piece and often were moulded or turned. The wares were coated with a very white slip before bisque firing. Decoration was applied underglaze on the bisqued wares, the outlines being applied through a stencil. Seven colors were used in various combinations even though there are many effective Iznik designs using only two, three or four colors. These colors were: blue (cobalt oxide), purple (manganese), red (silica and iron oxide), green (copper oxide), turquoise, grey and black. Before 1520, Iznik ware was decorated mainly in blue. From the 1520's turquoise was added. The polychrome palette developed from 1540-1560. The wares were glazed with a lead-alkaline-tin glaze, whose composition has been found from analysis to be lead oxide at 25-30%, silica at 40-55%, sodium compounds at 8-14% and tin oxide of 4-7%. The use of tin oxide, normally employed to render glaze opaque, is surprising, but in İznik glazes it remains in solution and is transparent. Firing was done in an updraft kiln at about 900°C.
After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Sultans started a huge building program. In these buildings, especially those commissioned by Süleyman, his wife Hürrem and his Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha, large quantities of tiles were used. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul - known as the Blue Mosque alone contains 20,000 tiles. The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is more densely tiled and tiles were used extensively in the Topkapı Palace as well. As a result of this demand, tiles dominated the output of the Iznik potteries. The Golden Horn Ware, or Tuğra style was a variation of blue and white ceramics and was popular from the 1530s to 1550s. Golden Horn ware was so named because the first samples were excavated in the Golden Horn area of Istanbul, but it was later decided that they were manufactured at Iznik, due to the number of shards and discarded firing trials found at Iznik. This type of decoration consists in series of thin concentric spirals adorned with small leaves. This design was inspired from calligraphy, and especially the Tuğra Imperial signatures such as that of Suleiman the Magnificent, the design has recently been more accurately named as the Tugrakes spiral style. For it is derived from the illuminated spiral scroll used on royal documents as a background design for the Sultan’s tughra, or imperial monogram. In particular, it relates very closely to that on a document dating from the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. So therefore, we have a ceramic design which directly reflects the taste of the imperial court. The so-called Damascus Ware was popular under Suleyman the Magnificent from 1540 to 1550. They used for the first time the colors green and purple, in addition to cobalt blue and turquoise, and form a transition towards full-fledged polychrome ceramics. There were again mistakenly labeled Damascus after some were found in Damascus, Syria, but were later understood to have come from Iznik.
Polychrome ceramics form the longest and most successful period of Iznik ware. They were made from the mid-16th century to the end of the 17th century. They used hard white clay, with soft green and coral red designs on a transparent underglaze. The decline of Iznik pottery has been linked with the decline in Ottoman power and with the Sultans' imposition of fixed prices in a period of inflation. The reduction in imperial demand inevitably affected the Iznik economy and by the mid-17th century only twenty kilns remained and knowledge had been lost. The design of later Iznik wares is generally regarded as weak. The white clay Fritware is still produced in Kütahya mainly for the tourist trade, but it is still valued as a good imitation of Iznik ceramic ware. In Kütahya you can still purchase these exquisite and colorful ceramic tiles, plates, cups and bowls, as well as tile wall panels comprised of anywhere from 6 to 18 tiles that when positioned correctly on a wall make a beautiful mural. They are often used in the building of the Çeşme in Turkey - The name "Çeşme" means fountain and often refers to the water fountains built by Muslims in celebration of having made their Hajj to Mecca.
The porcelin and ceramic ware being produced in Kutahya today is a mixture of high-tech production companies which make porcelin tableware for the hotel and restaurant industries with varying types and levels of quality being offered, as well as small local ceramic artisans. Kütahya Porselen is a large modern company located in Kütahya that produces the new generation of Kütahya Ceramics that caters to the hotel and restuarants. With a total of six factories and a closed area of 160.000 square meters, this company is involved in the production of hard porcelain, Naturaceram - a short name for Natural Ceramic, ceramic tableware, ceramics and packaging industries. Possessing a 50 million piece per year production capacity and 150 different pattern choices, Kütahya Porselen is one of the biggest three manufacturers of Europe. Kütahya Porselen offers not only porcelain dinnerware but also porcelain objects, tableware design, accessories, home decor and hand made items based on the concept of there being a variety of alternatives in a single location. With a focus on customer satisfaction, emphasis on environmental and human health concerns, Kütahya Porselen meets their customers in 42 Kütahya Porselen stores and more than 6,000 corner shops country-wide. The town of Kütahya has old neighbourhoods which are dominated by traditional Ottoman houses made of wood and stucco, some of the best examples being found along Germiyan Caddesi. It has many historical mosques such as Ulu Camii, Cinili Camii, Balikli Camii and Donenler Camii. The Şengül Hamamı is a famous Turkish bath is also located in the city. The town preserves some ancient ruins including a Byzantine castle and church. During late centuries Kütahya has been world renowned for its Turkish earthenware, of which many fine examples may be seen at the nations capital. The Kütahya Museum also has a fine collection of arts and cultural artifacts from the area. In Istanbul the Pera Museum conducts their Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection Exhibition Education Program. Upon visiting the Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection exhibition, the clay Workshop will commence with hands-on experience by learning the basic foundations of ceramics, clay where children will begin creating their own ceramic objects based upon everyday objects.