Farida M. Said in The Herald:
Sumptuous, vibrantly coloured ornamentation is a distinguishing characteristic of Islamic architecture. As the human form and figurative representation are strictly forbidden, there is a total absence of sculpture in Islamic edifices. Instead, geometric patterns and rich surface decoration reach unparalleled artistic heights with stucco, brick, marble and ceramics. Some of the earliest – and finest – displays of ceramic tiling and ornamental inscriptions are to be found in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built in the seventh century, hence, the oldest Islamic monument preserved in its architectural integrity; and in that masterpiece of elegance from the western extremity of the Islamic world, the al-Hambra in Granada, Spain. The use of ceramics in architecture began in earnest in Anatolia in the 13th century, at about the same time as in Seljuk Iran where specialisation in the glazed tile mosaic technique in Kashan gave ceramic tiles their Persian name, kashi, a contraction of kashani, meaning of Kashan. Then the indefatigable conqueror Emir Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame, forcibly transported master ceramists from their homeland to Samarqand. Thanks to Timur’s patronage, in a matter of three decades the drab ochre buildings of his capital were “bedecked in a dazzling livery of predominantly turquoise ceramic tile.”
The cladding of brick walls with glazed ceramic tiles in shades of azure blue, turquoise, cobalt and white soon became widespread in the Muslim world. In Ottoman Turkey, the Iznik factories evolved tiles that were never to be equalled in range and depth of tone, richness and variety of pattern, making it possible to sheet the interior of whole buildings with this gleaming decoration. In the Maghreb – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria – floors and walls were lined with beautiful enamelled and painted earthenware tiles known as Zellij. In Iran under Safavid rule, what the Timurids had begun in Samarqand was carried on in Isfahan. Outstandingly beautiful glazed tile work produced in the haft rung or seven colour techniques sheathed the splendid palaces and majestic mosques of the country as Persian architecture reached a rare level of perfection. Surprisingly, ceramic tile work was not the favourite form of decorative art in Mughal India. Unlike the brick-built architecture of Iran, most imperial Mughal mosques and minarets, palaces and mausoleums were made of red-mauve sandstone and decorated with white marble. Thus the fabulous Taj Mahal, the epitome of Mughal art, is clad in luminous marble inlaid in the pietra dura style with precious and semi-precious stones.