NollaMap: a digital world map aimed at preventing the extinction of the Nolla mosaic
15 Oct 2021 /

NollaMap: a digital world map aimed at preventing the extinction of the Nolla mosaic

The NollaMap application maps the presence of Nolla ceramics throughout the world with the mission of showing, protecting, conserving and sharing this architectural heritage and thus preventing its disappearance. This original project by the Centre for Research and Diffusion of Nolla Ceramics (CIDCeN) is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sport and by World Design Capital Valencia 2022 and advised by the architectural studio ARAE Patrimonio y Restauración.

The Casa Batlló in Barcelona, which houses an excellent example of Nolla mosaic, was the chosen setting for the official presentation of NollaMap and a call was launched for participation by the public to keep track of this jewel of Valencian design.

Inspired by the English industry, this product was recognised for its innovation and it managed to surpass the models on which it was based. All its production originates in the town of Meliana (Valencia), where the businessman Miguel Nolla founded the company in 1860, and in the 19th century it became one of the most prominent decorative elements of Spanish modernist architecture. In Barcelona, these pieces can be seen not only in the Casa Batlló, but also in other emblematic buildings of the Eixample neighbourhood such as the Casa Burés. On their route across Spain, the tiles covered the floors of places such as the Palacio de la Magdalena in Santander, the church of Santa Ana in Triana and the Palacio de Villagonzalo in Madrid. In honour of their origin, Nolla mosaics can be found in relevant Valencian institutions such as the City Hall, the Teatro Principal, the Post Office building, the Exhibition Palace, the Central Market, as well as numerous façades of the Cabanyal neighbourhood.

The Nolla Mosaic was one of the driving forces of the Spanish industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century,” emphasised Xavier Laumain, an architect with expertise in heritage and president of the CIDCeN. “With its characteristic design and artisanal know-how, it was able to cross every border.” The tiles were exported all around the world which is why magnificent examples of these ceramic carpets with their original multicolour designs can still be found from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Cuba, through capital cities such as Lisbon and Moscow. “These tesserae, laid piece by piece by skilled ‘mosaiqueros’, were especially present in Spain, of course, but also in all the territories that had trading relationships with our country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” explained Ángela López and Vanesa García, joint directors of the project.

A collaborative map on an international scale

Today, however, this mosaic is a heritage at risk of extinction and, 150 years later, no manufacturers of Nolla mosaics remain and it is urgent that we trace and establish all the coordinates with their geometric fingerprint. “We are calling on everybody to observe the wonderful floors we tread on and to complete the mosaic by pinpointing the locations of this Valencian design icon and heritage. NollaMap illustrates the important role of civil society in safeguarding and disseminating this heritage. The App is free and very intuitive for the user and it is supported by a large group of expert professionals who verify the details before publishing them. With it, we are going to create a highly collaborative world map to bring to society the infinite range of Nolla mosaics – on floors, façades, wainscotting, furniture… – and to document the findings of observers of the five continents. After just a few months of trials, the digital map already includes around one hundred localisations in countries such as Portugal, Mexico and Brazil.”

Discovering the past and present of the Nolla mosaic to safeguard its future

Nolla ceramic is a high-performance material inspired by English products and technologies of the second half of the 19th century. It was the first product of these characteristics introduced in Spain and its composition, as well as its firing at high temperatures, make it the forerunner of today’s porcelain tiles. Characterised by its small monochromatic pieces with infinite geometric and figurative combinations, this type of ceramic was through-body dyed and its manufacturing process makes it highly resistant to both breakage and wear.

The Centre for Research and Diffusion of Nolla Ceramics (CIDCeN) has several original catalogues and a range of pieces, designs and patterns which are made available to master restorers such as Salvador Escrivá. Furthermore this organisation, founded in 2015, contributes to corroborating the authenticity of the tiles and to providing advice on their recovery and conservation.