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one of the ceramic products used in building, to which group brick and terra-cottaterra-cotta
[Ital.,=baked earth], form of hard-baked pottery, widely used in the decorative arts, especially as an architectural material, either in its natural red-brown color, or painted, or with a baked glaze.
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 also belong. The term designates the finished baked clayclay,
common name for a number of fine-grained, earthy materials that become plastic when wet. Chemically, clays are hydrous aluminum silicates, ordinarily containing impurities, e.g., potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, or iron, in small amounts.
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—the material of a wide variety of units used in architecture and engineering, such as wall slabs or blocks, floor pavings, coverings for roofs, and drainage pipes. In these products the distinction between terra-cotta and tile is often vague, and any small flat slab of ceramic material used for veneering is also called a tile.

The Ancient World

Tile-making evolved from primitive pottery manufacture, and the earliest architectural sites give evidence of the use of tiles. As soon as the art of glazing was discovered, it became possible to use the thin slabs of hard-burned clay, decorated in colors, as a decorative adjunct to architecture. This aesthetic use of tiles as a facing for walls distinguishes them from other ceramic products, such as brick, terra-cotta, and roofing units, which are essentially structural. Colored glazed tiles dated from 4700 B.C. have been found in Egypt.

Ancient ceramics were perfected in Mesopotamia. Large wall surfaces were faced with bas-relief decorations executed in enameled tiles resembling modern bricks in shape, most notably at the palace at Khorsabad (722–705 B.C.) in Assyria, near ancient Nineveh, and the Ishtar Gate (c.7th cent. B.C.) in Babylon. From these regions ancient Persia acquired ceramic techniques for the fine bas-reliefs of animals and archers in the palaces of Susa and Persepolis (5th cent. B.C.).

The earliest tile sewer pipes are those excavated at Crete (c.1800 B.C.). The Greeks also employed tile drains and conduits as well as tiles for roofing. Their architectural ceramics were mostly confined to cornices and cornice adornments and are customarily classed as terra-cotta. The Romans made wide use of floor tiles of various shapes and of floor mosaics, as well as a variety of wall tiles, including a type similar to modern hollow tiles, which were used in bathing establishments for the passage of warm air and smoke and as insulation. Roman tiles received no colored or glazed decoration.

The Islamic World

The Muslim peoples brought tile to its greatest splendor as a decorative medium. In the countries that came under their influence the tradition of a brilliant ceramic art is still active. Muslim architecture is distinguished by the lavish tile incrustations upon the exterior surfaces of walls, domes, and minarets, as well as in rooms, mosques, and patios. The Persians remained masters of tile decoration. Unsurpassed masterpieces of tile design were produced in Persia from the 12th to the 16th cent. Examples are the 15th-century Blue Mosque at Tabriz and numerous structures at Esfahan and Shiraz.

Europe and the Americas

Firmly established by the 11th cent., ceramics became an integral element of architectural decoration in Spain, chiefly for floors and wainscots, their richness exemplified in the AlhambraAlhambra
[Arab.,=the red], extensive group of buildings on a hill overlooking Granada, Spain. They were built chiefly between 1230 and 1354 and they formed a great citadel of the Moorish kings of Spain.
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 at Granada. From Spain the art was transmitted not only to Italy and Holland and from there to England, but also into Mexico by the Spanish conquerors. The Spaniards in Mexico developed a distinctive style from the 16th to 18th cent., especially applied in the external decoration of domes.

At Delft, Holland, tile manufacturing began early in the 16th cent., and by 1670 numbers of factories were making the celebrated blue-and-white Delft tiles, which enjoyed great popularity in N Europe and were exported to the American colonies for fireplace facings. In Holland tiles were used to cover large wall spaces in rooms, often being arranged to form complete pictorial murals. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland tiles were used to cover heating stoves as early as the Gothic period and into the 19th cent., and numbers of these, decorated and beautifully executed, still remain. In modern times the vastly increased use for tiles, as in bathrooms, kitchens, and swimming pools and in industrial buildings, has created an extensive tile industry.


See A. A. J. Berendsen, Tiles: A General History (1967); and C. H. de Jongé, Dutch Tiles (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/


A ceramic surfacing unit, usually thin in relation to the facial area; made from clay or a mixture of clay and other ceramic materials; has either a glazed or an unglazed face.

acoustic tile

Rectangular sound-absorbing tile, normally used as a ceiling, whether glued to a backing or used in a grid as a suspended ceiling.

ceramic mosaic tile

An unglazed tile, usually mounted on sheets to facilitate setting; may be composed of porcelain or natural clay.

clay tile

A roofing tile of hard, burnt clay. In flooring it is called quarry tile.

crest tile

A tile which fits like a saddle on the ridge of a roof.

encaustic tile

A tile for pavement and wall decoration, in which the pattern is inlaid or incrusted in clay of one color in a ground of clay of another color.

floor tile

A ceramic tile that can be used as a floor finish, such as encaustic tile, quarry tile, and glazed tile.

glazed tile

Ceramic tile having a fused impervious glazed surface finish, composed of ceramic materials fused into the body of the tile; the body may be nonvitreous, semi-vitreous, or impervious.

hollow tile

A structural clay tile unit with vertical hollow cells; used to build interior masonry partitions and as a backup block for brick veneer.

mission tile

A clay roofing tile, approximately semicylindrical in shape; laid in courses with the units having their convex side alternating up and down.

paving tile

Unglazed porcelain or natural clay tile, formed by the dust-pressed method; similar to ceramic mosaic tile in composition and physical properties, but thicker.

quarry tile

A dense, unglazed, ceramic tile, used most often for flooring.

ridge tile

A tile which is curved in section, often decorative, used to cover the ridge of a roof.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


A piece of fired clay, stone, concrete, or other material used ornamentally to cover roofs, floors, or walls.
A hollow building unit made of burned clay or other material.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. A glazed or unglazed ceramic unit for finishing a surface; usually thin in relation to the dimensions of its face.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a rectangular block used as a playing piece in mah jong and other games
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


To display objects in rows and columns. The Tile command in a graphical interface squares up all open windows and displays them in row and column order. See tile-based interface and cascading windows.
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
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