Monday 15 April 2019

Rescuing Old Cement Tiles in Istanbul

In March 2019, I explored this tiny land plot between two apartment blocks in Beşiktaş, Istanbul.
 This area was likely the site of an older structure during the 19th century. My suspicions were confirmed when I came across this brightly-coloured old concrete tile by the roots of a tree.

 I dug out the tile. It was dazzling, and most likely dated to the last decade of the 19th century. Being familiar with Joel Canovas, the "tile hunter" of Barcelona, Spain and his exploits; I decided to rescue, restore and preserve this tile.

 I first took the tile to Mr. Selim Kan, a well-known knife-smith of Beşiktaş. Together we ground the surface of the tile and cleaned the rust that had accumulated over it in the intervening years.

 Next, I took the tile to a picture framer, and set it in a deep, white, wooden frame.

 I finally added a layer of varnish...

 ... and the century-old tile had found new life as an attractive tabletop ornament.

 My eyes were now open to "tile hunting". A few days later, I rescued one of these eclectic, green-orange-and-white tiles from the cellar of an old building.

 Once again I had it cleaned, polished and framed...

I also had this piece from an expedition in 2017, but I have yet to frame it...

 The beauty and legacy of these vanishing tiles are sadly being overlooked in Istanbul. Many buildings, dating from the 1870s to the 1970s have them, but they are fast disappearing. I had photographed and archived them whenever possible since the mid-2000s... Below is a tiny selection from my files.

A complete photo-archive of such old concrete tiles; alongside numerous other urban details and thousands of legacy hand-painted signs, can be found in my 2018 book, The Disappearing City: Hand-painted Apartment Signs and Architectural Details from 20th-Century Istanbul.

You can buy this book on here. I admit it is an expensive book, so here is a link where you can see the libraries that possess it.