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Italian Tiled Floors and Pavements
It cannot be denied that the origins of modern Italian flooring and pavements lie in ancient Greek and Roman traditions. Floors and pavements in Italy have a wide range. They can be terra cotta or marble, stones, or hand-painted ceramics.
Italian Tiles and Floors in History
In Roman architecture, all the different types of flooring mentioned above were used in different areas of the city-- at homes, palaces, and public places. In the Gothic period, the floors of the cathedrals attracted special attention and artistry in terms of stone and terracotta tiles. Italian floor tiles had improved in aesthetic and technical terms by this time.
In the Middle Ages, the Italian floors became well decorated thanks largely to the marble and other hand-made decorative tile floorings. Especially in the 12th and the 13th centuries, the Pope had a direct influence on the marble and flooring industry in Italy. The floors of churches were all covered in geometric designs at this time, and the marble-tiled decorative flooring was a chief feature of the papal city.
The chapel of Saint Petronio in Bologna is one of the first well-known examples of artistically designed floors. It was created in 1487 by Pietro Andrea da Faenza. Soon, with encouragement from the clergy and the nobility alike, the use of designer tiles in Italian floorings in villas, churches and chapels became common all over Italy.
But even before designer tiles came into prevalence, the renowned Cosmati family of Rome had begun creating geometric decorative mosaic flooring. Their work has been named as Cosmatesque work, a sort of cut-work technique with complicated patterns of inlaid colored marble, other stones, and glass in triangular and rectangular shapes.
One of the vivid examples of their excellent work is seen on the pavement of San Jacopo alla Lungara. Other than a miniscule number of villas and government buildings, such designed tiles and elaborate techniques are no longer used to create
modern Italian floors.
Italian Terra cotta and Marble Floors
In the Italy of today, Terra Cotta and Marble floors have their appeal because they are close to nature, yet easy to maintain.
Italian Terracotta tiles, those made the traditional hand-made way by using a mould, baking the clay under the sun, and then in the kiln, are valued for the degree of skill required in making them. Italian Terra cotta floors, when laid out professionally, can give warmth to any part of the home, because of the earthiness usually associated with the Tuscan range of colours. Their unevenness in shape and colour is not considered a defect, but part of their appeal.
The arrangement of the Terra cotta tiles also makes a difference. They can be placed as “spina di pesce”, which literally means “the thorns of a fish”. The effect in this arrangement is that of a herringbone, with the head of one tile attached to the side of another. They can be placed “a correre”, which is the classic brick wall look, with tiles on one row ending at the middle of the tiles in the rows above and below it. With modern finishes, some of the Italian Terra cotta floors can be used everywhere in the house: from living room to bedroom, and the kitchen to outdoors. They are easy to maintain, and a joy to walk on.
Authentic Italian marble floors can be very expensive, but they are truly value for money in terms of looks, ease of care, and durability. While in Roman antiquity exclusive shops and artisans were involved in the Italian marble industry, today it is more or less widely available, and a symbol of luxury, not just in Italy but all over the world.
Marble in its naturally occurring form has veins and grains, and different slabs end up having different veins, adding to the charm of the marble-tiled floor. Italian marble furthers this charm with a tinge of history.
Michelangelo’s David was carved using the famed Carrara marble, which comes from the city of the same name. Carrara is a big centre of the Italian marble industry even today, as is Seravezza, which is famed since the last few centuries for the quality of the marble from its quarries. Some of the better known Carrara marbles used in tiles are Bianco, Calacatta, Statuario, Cremo Delicato, and so on.
Stone, Ceramic and Hand-made Tiles for Italian Floors and Pavements
Other than terra cotta and marble, Italian stone floors are also quite popular. Granite Tuscan travertine, onyx, basalt, sandstone and limestone are also used on Italian floors chiefly because tiles made of these stones are usually more cost-effective than marble, and come in a large range of colors, patterns, sizes, and shapes. Exotic and durable options, like the lava stones tiles from Etna, are also available.
Italian ceramic tiled floors are known across the world for their delicacy of design. They are available in almost innumerable types from glazed to hand-painted and natural to decorated. Since historical times, ceramic tiles have been a mode of artistic expression on Italian floors, which has added to their utilitarian value.
With technological advances, it has been possible to create thinner and bigger ceramic tiles, which are resistant to impact and heat. But the beauty of Italian ceramic floors lies in the versatility and innovation of the designers and the skill of the local artisans.
They still carry on age-old traditions of painting and screen-printing to decorate precious hand-made tiles with exquisite designs.
The beauty and appeal of Italian floors and pavements does not lie in their physical appearance alone. It does not lie in the sheen of Italian marble, nor in the strength of Italian granite, the glaze of Italian terra cotta, or the design of Italian hand-made tiles. The charm of getting an Italian flooring for one’s house is the opportunity to bring oneself closer to a piece of Italian history and keep alive centuries of traditional artisan work.
By Damyanti Ghosh, May 2010