Turkish tiles are world famous, not only the tiles cladding the walls of historic buildings but also the magnificent İznik plates and bowls that have long been collectors’ items, masterpieces that are found not only in Topkapı Palace Museum but also adorn the showcases of world museums, such as the Gulbenkian in Lisbon and V&A in London. But the famed İznik pottery was just another step in the long line of pottery tradition in Anatolia.
The Neolithic period in the Anatolian plateau spans a time of more than 3000 years; from around 9500 cal BC to around 6000 cal BC. Archaeological records show that farming practices were first established in the Fertile Crescent in the 10th millennium. Agrarian communities were soon to develop techniques for making pottery. Fired clay samples from the early 8th and the late 9th millennium were found in Boncuklu Höyük in the Konya Plain, which even predates the nearby site of Çatalhöyük. As farming spread west of Central Anatolia, reaching the Aegean coast before 6600 BC and northwest Anatolia by 6600 at the latest, so did the spread of pottery towards the western parts of Anatolia and eventually to Thrace.
New findings in Thrace prove that farming communities spread to the Balkans and Europe, and interestingly, one can trace earlier phases of this spread by the sites dotting the area of Phrygia, around today’s Eskişehir, toward İznik. Archaeological findings of Keçiçayırı reveal early Neolithic pottery, the site being among the earliest permanent settlements of the Eskisehir region, and contains some of the earliest evidence for the Neolithization process. These sites also formed the trade roots that started commerce in the region. No wonder why İznik became a hub of the finest pottery in the 15th century; there has been a constant tradition of pottery making in the region. Interestingly, another important Ottoman pottery city is Kütahya, just on the same route from Central Anatolia toward İznik.
The history of pottery in Anatolia is diverse and varied, spanning from the Hittite and Frigian periods to the Greek and Roman times. Needless to say, there has been continuous pottery trade along the trade routes, also reaching faraway lands. During the Roman period, red earthenware crockery from the site of Sagalassos up in the Taurus mountains in the Mediterranean region was a major export item. Red plates of Sagalassos were sent all over to sites around the Mediterranean basin. In a way, this was a global export of its day. The success of the red earthenware of Sagallasos was their durability and strength, surviving long ship voyages, and of course, their functionality. During the Ottoman period, it was not only local production, there has been an enormous inflow of Chinese chinaware that came to the Ottoman court. Today, the Topkapı Palace Museum hosts the largest collection of celadon crockery outside of China. İznik ware was largely influenced by these China ware.
The reason I’m delving into the history of pottery and ceramics in the country is to understand the background of a deep-rooted tradition. In contemporary Türkiye, new brands have emerged, selling fine chinaware and ceramics worldwide. My recent discovery on that has been learning about Bonna porcelain and ceramics, which started as Kar Porselen in 1983 as a tiny ceramic workshop with big dreams. The birthplace of the company was Bilecik, just on the road from Eskişehir to İznik, as if intending to rewrite the crockery chronicle of the region. They had a modest but courageous start, always in quest for trying to bring something new to the market. One may remember their chef-figurine cutlery holders and the basket-weave ceramic bowls on every table. They were the first to produce square-shaped plates challenging the conventional round dining plates. Of course, it was not only about the shape but also the technique. Everyone in the hotel/restaurant/café business knows that chipped crockery is a nightmare. Even with the slightest chip on the edge, you cannot serve the plate to the customer, and if your crockery is not of premium quality, hazards are bound to happen. Seeing this, Kar Porselen reshaped its brand in 2014, becoming Bonna Premium Porcelain and giving emphasis to technique, releasing the first lifetime edge-chip warranty plates in Türkiye, and eventually becoming one of the most successful HoReCa brands in the country. They participated at Milan HOST in 2015 and Frankurt Ambiente in 2016. Today, the company sells worldwide to 90 countries on six continents, featuring innovative designs, including hand-painted collections. With the increasing demand, they invested in two state-of-the-art facilities, first in Çayırova, increasing the capacity to an additional 10 million pieces, and second in Bilecik, Pazaryeri, with an additional capacity for 12 million pieces. These are serious numbers, and with the durability they have, in the future, I bet we can talk about an archaeology of Bonna tableware worldwide, adding to the crockery chronicles of Türkiye.
Fork of the Week: Tableware is not just about crockery, it is also about cutlery. When it comes to setting a table, you have to have the full set of proper spoons, knives and forks in place. At this point, we cannot really talk about a deep-rooted cutlery past in Türkiye, keep aside the great culture affixed to spoons only. Serving forks and knives along with spoons only started with the waves of Westernization in the 19th century, starting with the first Western-style set tables in Dolmabahçe Palace, where individual tableware became the norm. But spoons had been another phenomenon; spoons were like chopsticks to Chinese cookery in Turkish culinary culture.
This week I chose “Fork of the Week” not as a food item but as an actual fork, knife and spoon set. The Bonna Brand recently took another brave step forward and introduced their first cutlery line designed by the famed British designer Nick Holland based in Portugal. The cutlery line features three collections - Grace, Vogue and Illusion - designed to cater to different occasions, from casual to fine-dining. I had the chance to experience the latter, a feather-light, easy-to-handle collection that can fit any table from casual to fine dining. I find Vogue especially lovable, perhaps, this line reminds me of the Danish design cutlery we used to carry religiously back home from Denmark. Flowing lines and soft curves make the Vogue line sculptural and trendy, perfect for daily casual tables. But my heart lies in Grace, a timeless collection having an almost Art-deco vibe and carrying a contemporary look with a Scandinavian and Japanese whiff, destined to become a classic on any table, a design in line with its name fit for all graceful special occasions for a lifetime.