4 mins

13 of the world's most beautiful and intricate mosaics

An expertly-crafted mosaic mural can truly stir the soul. From deep in the Serbian countryside to the ancient towns of Jordan, discover the best places to enjoy the world's loveliest, intricate mosaics...

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy (Shutterstock)

1. St George's Church, Topola, Serbia

The interior of St George's Church (Oplenac) in Topola, Serbia (Shutterstock)

The interior of St George's Church (Oplenac) in Topola, Serbia (Shutterstock)

As well as being the mausoleum for 28 members of the Karadjordjevic dynasty, St George’s Church - high on a hill near the central Serbian town of Topola -  also houses one of the most incredible collections of mosaics in the world.

725 individual compositions cover 3,570 sq m of the church, also known as Oplenac, interior, using millions of tiles made from Murano glass, in over 15,000 different shades of colours.

They were created by the finest Russian artisans of the time and were based on frescoes copied from medieval monasteries across Serbia. Just over an hour from Belgrade by car, it's well worth the excursion.

 

Discover more of Serbia's hidden gems

2. Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA (Shutterstock)

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA (Shutterstock)

Philly's famous South Street is renowned for its unique, multi-coloured street art, with creatives having reclaimed abandoned storefronts and transforming them since the 1960s.

One such artist, Isaiah Zagar, led the charge - and his eco-conscious mosaics - made from recyclable materials like glass bottles - slowly evolved from artwork on a storefront into an entire sculpture park, with quirky, colourful designs leading up staircases and along alleyways.

The only issue? Isaiah didn't own the land that had become his canvas. Fortunately, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens become a non-profit organisation in 2004, protecting his works for local residents and visitors to admire.

3. Madaba Map, Jordan

Madaba Map of the Holy Land in Madaba, Jordan (Shutterstock)

Madaba Map of the Holy Land in Madaba, Jordan (Shutterstock)

The Madaba Map is oldest cartographic depiction of the Holy Land in the world, though isn’t a map in the traditional sense. Rather, it takes the form of a floor mosaic, and can be viewed in the early Byzantine Church of St. George, in the ancient town of Madaba, Jordan.

The Madaba Map focuses specifically on the city of Jerusalem, and dates back to the sixth century. Interestingly, we may never have known of its existence, if not its discovery during the build of a new Greek Orthodox Church on the site in 1884. 

4. Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

Mosaic-covered demons guarding Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand (Shutterstock)

Mosaic-covered demons guarding Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand (Shutterstock)

Across the river from the towering, white temple Wat Arun, let yourself be dazzled by the detail of Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. 

Home to a revered Emerald Buddha, it is also famous for its pavilions, prangs and statues of mythological creatures, all encrusted with glass and porcelain mosaics. The porcelain tiles were purpose-made and display distinctively Thai exuberance.

5. Moscow Metro, Russia

A mosaic in Kiyevskaya subway station in Moscow, Russia (Shutterstock)

A mosaic in Kiyevskaya subway station in Moscow, Russia (Shutterstock)

Built as luxurious ‘Palaces to the People’, Moscow’s stunning metro stations have been called the largest underground art galleries in the world. Here, under high vaulted ceilings and lit by chandeliers, you’ll find countless mosaics made with glass, marble and granite, all promising a radiant future.

Get off at any station and you’ll find mosaic homages to workers, soldiers, farmers, and students in sports, industry, agriculture, and warfare. If you've limited time to hop on and hop off, Kiyevskaya subway station boasts a particularly grand interior.

6. Monreale Cathedral, Palermo, Italy

The Christ Pantocrator in Monreale Cathedral in Palermo, Italy (Shutterstock)

The Christ Pantocrator in Monreale Cathedral in Palermo, Italy (Shutterstock)

Walking into this 800-year-old cathedral in Palermo is a truly religious experience. The interior features breathtaking mosaics, made from glass tiles, most of them gold.

At the right time of day, when light streams in through the stain glassed windows, it literally glows. The mosaic of Christ Pantocrator holds pride of place. It was created by the most talented Venetian and Muslim craftsmen in the 12th century, and remains extraordinary to this day.

7. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The floral mosaics at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE (Shutterstock)

The floral mosaics at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE (Shutterstock)

Executed in brightly coloured tiles and white marble low-relief, the floral mosaics that border the main square of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque offer a splash of colour against the otherwise blinding white of this stunning structure.

They were designed by British artist Kevin Dean, who called upon his experience creating floral motifs for Laura Ashley and providing botanic illustrations for children’s books, to make these enchanting mosaics bloom.

8. Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Interior of Basilica of San Vitale (Shutterstock)

Interior of Basilica of San Vitale (Shutterstock)

Regarded as one of the most important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is adorned with beautifully intricate mosaics, each telling a story from the Old Testament.

Rich in detail, bursting with colour and lavished with gold, it's clear that the Bible’s most beloved stories have never looked so good. That said, anywhere in this popular Emilia-Romagna town, you're likely to find stunning mosaics dating as far back as the fifth century. It's what the town is famous for.

9. Kalta Minor Minaret, Khiva, Uzbekistan

Kalta Minor Minaret at night (Shutterstock)

Kalta Minor Minaret at night (Shutterstock)

The barrel-shaped Kalta Minor minaret, in the Silk Road city of Khiva, proves that mosaics don't need to be elaborate to be beautiful, or command your attention in the skyline. 

Kalta Minor is adorned with glazed tile and majolica, a type of pottery, in luxurious hues of bright turquoise and deep azure. The minaret towers over the neighbouring Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum, catching the eye instantly, and certainly soothing the soul. 

10. Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural, Vietnam

A section of the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural (Shutterstock)

A section of the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural (Shutterstock)

Built to celebrate the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi in 2010, the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural adorns the walls of the Red River dike system.

Stretching over four miles, it is the longest mosaic in the world and features scenes from Vietnamese mythology and Hanoi’s history and reflects the different artistic styles from different periods. The tiles were made in Bát Tràng, a nearby village famous for its ceramics.

11. Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument, Gudauri, Georgia

Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument in Gudauri (Shutterstock)

Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument in Gudauri (Shutterstock)

Built in 1983 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk, this monumental mosaic sits backed by stunning snow-capped mountains.

The inside of the cylinder-shaped monument is decorated with vibrantly coloured murals depicting scenes from Georgian and Russian history. The circle was left incomplete to indicate the unknown future. Quite insightful, considering relations between the two countries since.

12. Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, Italy

The famous bikini mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale (Shutterstock)

The famous bikini mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale (Shutterstock)

Tucked away in the hills of Sicily, Villa Romana del Casale, was once a luxurious Roman home, built in the early fourth century.

Excavations between 1929 and 1960 revealed 4,200 sq yards of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world. The most famous depicts bikini-clad women partaking in sports like weightlifting and discus throwing.

13. Parc Güell, Barcelona, Spain

Colourful ceramic bench at Parc Güell (Shutterstock)

Colourful ceramic bench at Parc Güell (Shutterstock)

Built on Carmel Hill, offering lovely views back over Barcelona, Parc Güell is Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s more playful gift to the city he adored.

The park features sweeping walls, surreal benches and mythical creatures, all covered in colourful mosaics. Arguably the world’s most surreal public park, Parc Güell is UNESCO-listed and extremely popular.

You'll need to book online in advance to visit the majority of the park, and you'll be given a timed slot for exploration. You can admire a few sections for free, though. 

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