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Photo: Alex Campos

With a 4,000-year-old practice, there’s no shortage to choose from.
1. Ravenna, Italy

The mosaics in Ravenna date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, during which time the city was the seat of the Western Roman Empire and then the capital of Byzantine Italy. Its famous mosaics are found in three separate churches:

The intricate mosaics depict the life of Jesus and other biblical scenes. All three churches are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Photo: Alastair Rae

2. Madaba, Jordan

The oldest cartographic depiction of the Holy Land is in mosaic form and housed in the Church of St. George. The Madaba Map dates to the 6th century and was originally over 16m long and 6m wide. The central part (of what remains) focuses on the city of Jerusalem. It was discovered in 1894 during construction of a Greek Orthodox Church.

Photo: Brandmeister

3. San Diego, California

This glass mosaic mural is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It hangs on the Villa Harvey Mandel building, an affordable housing complex, and measures 43 feet wide and 72 feet tall. It is among the last works of artist and designer Mr. Italo Botti, who died four months before its completion.

Photo: Krakd

4. Barcelona, Spain

Antoni Gaudi may be most famous for La Sagrada Familia, but he’s also responsible for some pretty cool mosaic work in Parc Güell, a short bus ride from the church and up a steep hill. The park, designed by Gaudi and built between 1900 and 1914, contains long, winding rows of tile-covered benches surrounding a large dirt courtyard. A mosaic dragon greets you at the bottom of the steps when you arrive.

Photo: Ivan Walsh

5. Sicily, Italy

The Villa Romana del Casale, built in the early 4th century, was fully uncovered by three excavations between 1929 and 1960, revealing over 4,200 square yards of mosaic floor. Some of the scenes focus on Roman life, such as “bikini-clad” women partaking in sports like weightlifting and discus throwing, and also hunters with their dogs. The villa was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Photo: procsilas

6. New York City, New York

The NYC subway system is home to some pretty impressive works of mosaic art. The use of mosaics at subway stations was started by artist and architect Squire Vickers at the beginning of the 1900s. The exhibits are easy to bypass without giving notice — I lived in New York for three months and didn’t pay them much attention. Now I look forward to returning and paying the artwork the proper respect.

Nycsubway.org currently has 226 artworks listed around the subway system.

Photo: discosour

7. Yazd, Iran

The Jāmeh Mosque of Yazd — originally constructed in the 12th century — was largely rebuilt in the 1300s. It is featured on the Iranian 200-rial banknote. The entrance — flanked by Iran’s tallest minarets at 48 meters — is completely covered in mosaic tile work, as is the large dome, minarets, and interior chamber.

8. Chartres, France

The work of art that is La Maison Picassiette is not nearly as old as many on this list, but I would argue just as impressive. The small house is located in Chartres, around 50 miles southwest of Paris. Between 1938 and 1964, Raymond Isidore covered his house, garden, courtyard, furniture, floors — everything by the looks of it — with broken ceramic tile. The house receives around 30,000 visitors per year.

For a virtual tour and detailed descriptions of it, click here.

9. London, England

The Great Pavement” in Westminster Abbey was laid down in the 13th century when the Abbot of Westminster — after seeing a new floor in the Pope’s Roman summer home — brought back a ship full of marble, glass, and Italian craftsmen. The 24sqft floor is comprised of rare marbles, gemstones, and colored glass, with some of the material coming from recycled millennium-old monuments. The images inlaid depict the universe and its end.

Undergoing restoration / Photo: Eric.Parker

10. The World

French street artist Invader has gained notoriety by throwing up mosaics of Space Invaders characters, as well as icons from other 1970s video games, in cities all around the world. He began this in 1998 in his hometown of Paris, still the most “invaded” city. Mosaic tiles are used as the pixels that make up the low-resolution figures. After he finishes invading a city, he documents his work in books using maps to guide people to his art.

He’s even hit up the Hollywood sign in California, his first mosaic going on the letter D in 1991. He has since placed one on each of the other letters.

Photo: Groume

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

No mosaics here, but nonetheless they are 13 of the Coolest Art Installations in the History of Burning Man.

Have you seen any cool mosaics during your travels? Let us know in the comments below.

About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • http://www.cuadernoinedito.wordpress.com Julie

    Carlo-

    Fun topic for a photo essay.
    I should have thought about this earlier, but Mexico City has some incredible mosaics as well. One of the most impressive, in my opinion, was done by Juan O’Gorman, and it’s the total building mosaic of the Central Library at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. You can see a photo of it here: http://bit.ly/cs7nbM

    According to a history I read about the mosaic, most of the pieces were sourced from Mexico.

  • http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog pam

    There’s impressive because of aesthetic value and there’s impressive because of context.

    Up at Masada, a “last stand” site in Israel where an extremist Jewish population held out against the Romans, there’s quite a lot of lovely mosaic work. Here you are, holed up with your cult family against a bunch of marauding Romans and you think to yourself, you know what we need? Some nice tile work for our bathhouse.

    THAT is impressive dedication to mosaic.

  • http://sleepinginthemountains.blogspot.com Tim Patterson

    The Madaba mosaic underwhelmed me when I was there last month – it’s impressive mostly because it’s so old, not because of the artistry.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    Thanks Julie…Tim/Pam, yes I was definitely thinking of the context as I researched and wrote this. Some were more for the history, some for the grandeur.

    And yes Pam, I’m sure that’s exactly what they were thinking ;)

    I think my favourite one is that house in France. If you haven’t clicked through to that link you should, it’s pretty amazing. Next time I’m in France I’m definitely making my way there.

    • http://kristin5683.wordpress.com/ Kristin Conard

      Yeah, the one in Chartres was crazy amazing! So incredible!

  • Bill Hoppes

    The mosaics at the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg Russia are spectacular and not to be missed. When I first saw them I had to get closer to convince myself they weren’t paintings.

    • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

      Thanks Bill. I was there in 2008 but didn’t actually go inside the church. Just admired it from the outside.

  • John O’Brien

    Take a look at

    http://www.mosaicatlas.com

    You will find mosaics from all around the world.

    John

  • http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com Jean

    Since Vancouver British Columbia has milder weather than most of Canada, we do not experience pavement/ground heave. Hence, we have lots of different mosaic outdoor art.

    Sampling here:

    http://insidevancouver.ca/2010/11/12/metro-vancouver%e2%80%99s-several-hundred-art-mosaics%e2%80%94footsteps-or-a-bike-ride-away/

    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/mosaic-park-%e2%80%93-a-creative-stream-of-community-consciousness-and-dreams/

    Not sure about other North American cities, but surely we have lots in terms of diverse subject matte in public mosaic art because of our multicultural integration which affects conscious multi-faceted artistic expression, flora and fauna (sea, land and sky), etc.

  • http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com Jean

    John: The mosaic atlas link is missing several hundred different mosaic art installations all over City of Vancouver (and suburbs, North Vancouver, Surrey, etc.) which is why I gave some web links.

  • http://www.musingovermosaic.blogspot.com M.A.

    I really loved your post.
    I would have some additions to the list.

    1. Kariye Camii or Chora Monastery in Istanbul: Byzantine mosaic masterpieces
    2. Dafni in Attiki, Greece
    3. Olynthos and Pella for pebble mosaics, Greece
    4. Mosaics by Saimir Strati – entered the Guinness world of records
    5. Palea Paphos, ancient mosaic site in Cyprus

    and many more

    visit : http://musingovermosaic.blogspot.com/2010/03/m-o-m-essential-mosaic-guide.html

    • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

      Fantastic. Thanks for the link.

  • jimpower mosaicmannyc

    dont for get   MOSAIC MAN NYC   25 years 3 miles public  nyc street lights……..city lore….04     mosaic man jim power …longest lasting gurrilla  art in nyc

  • Tmj Headaches

    Shoulodn’t these be categorized as a ‘world wonder’? They are amazing. I recently visited Cyprus and visited some of their mosaic which are some of the oldest in the world. Not only old but in amazing condition. I also recently saw this site http://www.mozaico.net that has a number of excellent reproductions of famous mosaics to buy.

  • MOSAIC TRAIL

    MOSAIC MAN NYC 1981-2014 THE LEGENDARY …MOSAIC TRAIL BY JIM POWER AND JESSIE JANE DOG

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