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2 February 2012 / leggypeggy

The majolica tiles of Khiva (21 photos)

I’ve already introduced Khiva, but can’t resist sharing a large collection of photos of the sensational tiles decorating the many historic buildings. Unlike mosaics, these tiles—referred to as majolica tiles—are nailed onto the walls.

Both Poor John and I were gobsmacked by the sheer number of tiles—Khiva’s old city covers a square kilometre and I reckon the tiles cover at least a square kilometre of wall. The wide variety of patterns is also impressive.

Most of the photographs shown here were taken in aywans (outdoor living spaces), madrassahs (schools) and the palace. An aywan has three walls and a high ceiling with the open side facing north to catch and circulate cooling northern breezes. Often one or two ornately carved pillars prop up the open side of a large aywan. Traditional Khivan houses have simple, unadorned aywans where the family lives in summer.

Look closely for the fine black brushstrokes that are actually Arab numerals

Many of Khiva’s tiles have been designed to resemble hanging carpets—especially in the harem. These usually have an inner field pattern and a thick, ornamental border, much like a carpet. Because so many tiles were needed to decorate Khiva, many kilns were in use, which may account for the variety in design. That said, the core designs are called islimi (or arabesque). If you look closely you may see an Arab numeral on a tile. This was so the tiles could be laid out in the right order.

The term ‘majolica’ comes from the island of Majorca where ceramics and tiles using a combination of white, deep blue and turquoise were first made. This ‘cooling’ combination became very popular in the scorching heat of North African summers. Over time, the colour scheme spread eastwards across the Islamic world to Persia and beyond.

Also don’t forget to pick a number.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Jim / Feb 5 2012 9:36 am

    As an old tile layer I can appreciate the work that went into this. Speaking of art, does anyone do “broke tile” anymore or was this just a 60’s fashion thing?


    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2012 10:26 am

      Hi JIm,
      Broke-tile art must still be popular. Just the other day, I saw a woman on Australian TV saying she has a home business creating mosaics from recycled pottery, tiles and glass. Also a few of my friends have me save any tiles or pottery I break.
      We saw a lot of pottery/tile art on our trip, in Vietnam especially. Here’s a link to a blog item.
      One of these days I’ll post more pics on this kind of art.


      • Jim / Feb 10 2012 7:36 am

        When I was 14, I stretched the truth about my age and got my first “tax paying” job working with ceramic tile. I soon learned that laying (actually putting up tiles on walls, cealings etc.) tile was more of an art than a skill. The broke tile porches we did were the most fun. Basically you took a hammer and broke good tile and then arranged the pieces in any pattern (or lack of) you desired before grouting in final. During my limited world travels I always enjoy tile, it arouses memories lost.


  2. leggypeggy / Feb 10 2012 11:06 am

    I love the tiles too. Broke-tile porches would be amazing.



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