A tile is a manufactured piece of hard-wearing material such as ceramic, stone, metal, or even glass. Tiles are generally used for covering roofs, floors, walls, showers, or other objects such as tabletops. Alternatively, tile can sometimes refer to similar units made from lightweight materials such as perlite, wood, and mineral wool, typically used for wall and ceiling applications. Less precisely, the modern term can refer to any sort of construction tile or similar object, such as rectangular counters used in playing games (see tile-based game). The word is derived from the French word tuile, which is, in turn, from the Latin word tegula, meaning a roof tile composed of fired clay. Tiles are often used to form wall and floor coverings, and can range from simple square tiles to complex mosaics. Tiles are most often made from porcelain, fired clay or ceramic with a hard glaze, but other materials are also commonly used, such as glass, metal, cork, and stone. Tiling stone is typically marble, onyx, granite or slate. Thinner tiles can be used on walls than on floors, which require thicker, more durable surfaces.
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Rumors have it that the first clay tiles were produced seven to eight thousand years ago in the area now known as the Holy Land. Many sources independently verify that the actual known history of Tiles, (and the known usage of wall and floor tile coverings) can be traced back as far as the fourth millennium BC (4000 BC) to Egypt.
In those days, in Egypt, tiles were used to decorate various houses. Clay bricks were dried beneath the sun or baked, and the first glazes were blue in color and were made from copper, very exquisite!
During that period ceramics were also known to be found in Mesopotamia. These ceramics bore decorations, which were white and blue striped and later possessed more varied patterns and colors. Later on, in China too, the great center of ceramic art, a fine, white stoneware with the earliest Chinese glaze was produced during the Shang-Yin dynasty (1523-1028 BC).
The usage and the art of making and decorating ceramic tiles had spread and by 900 A.D., decorative tiles had become widely used in Persia, Syria, Turkey and across North Africa. As transport and communication developed, tile usage and its penetration in other territories increased. Wars and territory take-overs caused this art to spread even faster.
The Romans introduced tile making in Western Europe as they occupied territories. The Low Countries of Northern Europe somehow acquired the technology from Persia, while the Moors brought African tiles with them when they invaded Iberia (Spain). It was aboard the ships of Spanish conquistadors that decorative clay tiles found their way to the New World, where they were used primarily to decorate the Churches of newly built missions.
By the end of the 12th century, use and manufacture of Ceramic Tiles had spread across Italy and Spain and into the rest of Europe. Till that time they were mainly used to decorate the floors of Cathedrals and Churches. The skill had eventually vanished from Europe in the 16th century following the reformation. But the decorative wall tile art had survived in Turkey and the Middle East and the Delft tiles art survived in Holland.
A form of tile making had also evolved among the natives of North and South America at some point. The first decorative tiles to appear in Colonial North America were imported from Northern Europe, mainly England the Brits having hijacked the technology from the Dutch. The tiles were too expensive for utilitarian purposes in the Colonies and were found almost exclusively in the homes of the wealthy.
Through the centuries, tile decoration was improved upon, as were methods of tile manufacture. For example, during the Islamic period, all methods of tile decoration were brought to perfection in Persia. Throughout the known world, in various countries and cities, Ceramic tile production and decoration reached great heights. The tile mosaics of Spain and Portugal, the floor tiles of Renaissance Italy, the faiences of Antwerp, the development of tile iconography in the Netherlands, and the Ceramic tiles of Germany are all prominent landmarks in the history of Ceramic tile.
In the early days, the tiles were hand-made, each tile was hand-formed and hand-painted, thus each was a work of art in its own right. Ceramic tile was used almost everywhere on walls, floors, ceilings, fireplaces, in murals, and as an exterior cladding on buildings.
Today Ceramic tile throughout the world is not hand-made or hand-painted for the most part. Automated manufacturing techniques are used and the human hand does not enter into the picture until it is time to install the tile. They are used in an almost infinite number of ways and you dont have to consider yourself wealthy to own them. In commercial buildings, where both beauty and durability are considerations, ceramic tiles will be found, particularly in lobby areas and restrooms.
In fact most modern houses throughout use Ceramic tiles for their bathrooms and kitchens and in every vital area of the premise. Ceramic tiles are also the choice of industry, where walls and floors must resist chemicals. And the Space Shuttle never leaves Earth without its protective jacket of high-tech, heat resistant tiles. (Note: The above history has been compiled after taking varied sources of information into consideration)