History of Mosaics

Mosaic is art everlasting; thanks to the durable nature of the materials that go into it. As an art form, it has its roots in Mesopotamia. The oldest mosaics date from 4000 BC and were found in the land of the Sumerians in Southern Mesopotamia. The earliest form of mosaic was in a temple in the ancient city of Uruk which was adorned with "mosaics" made of shells, onyx, clay and semi-precious stones.

Even so, the concept of pebble mosaic was widespread in the Mediterranean. The earliest specimens date from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The coarse shale mosaic floor discovered at Gordio in Phrygia (present-day Turkey) is a typical example. Flat pebble mosaic paving adorns the important rooms of the house, but not the outdoor areas.

By the Hellenistic times of the 5th century BC, the Greek people were promoting pebble mosaic paving in geometric designs as an art form. The results were exquisite, as can be seen in the 4th-century-BC pebble mosaic floors at Pella and Olynthos in the north of Greece, which still show no signs of succumbing to the ravages of time. That was when the need for attractive, sealed flooring led to the widespread use of mosaic. The people of the time used natural materials such as pebbles found in rivers and streams or on beaches and arranged them in decorative designs to make durable, long-lasting floors. Using two different colours in the designs served a decorative purpose and made it possible to incorporate images and tableaux.

The art of mosaic spread everywhere in Roman times and was put to new uses in constructions with running water which were then at the height of their popularity. With the rise of the Byzantine Empire in the 5th century AD, new techniques were taken on board in pebble mosaic paving and specially made glass chips were used in a technique known as "enamelling". The aesthetic appeal seen in the result is encountered at no other time.

Throughout the middle ages the decline of pebble mosaic paving is all too apparent, despite evidence of attempts to revive the age-old art.

Today, the art of pebble mosaic paving knows no bounds. Thanks to the endless decorative uses it can be applied to, and the highly durable nature of the material it is made of (properties which are its defining characteristics) mosaics adorn any surface anywhere. Its most recent application, and one in keeping with modern times, is in reflexology. The special paths in Chinese parks built to cater for this branch of alternative medicine are no secret.