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From the ceiling of an ancient mausoleum to the back wall of an unassuming alleyway, art can be found in the strangest of places. And whether it’s a large-scale mural or an intricate mosaic, these pieces utilize varied mediums to demonstrate art in grand proportion. From ornate ceilings in ancient cathedrals to modern-day street art, here are 16 epic mosaics and murals around the world.
St. George's Church (Topola, Serbia)
Also referred to as the Oplenac Mausoleum, St. George’s Church in the town of Topola, Serbia, contains nearly 40,000 square feet of inlaid mosaic inside its walls. The brainchild of King Peter I, the mausoleum was commissioned in 1910, but construction was soon halted by successive wars.
Decades later, King Peter’s successor commissioned Puhl and Wagner, a glass company from Berlin to create the exquisite mosaic inside the church. The work depicts 1,500 figures from Serbian monasteries and contains pieces of glass in 15,000 different hues. But the artwork doesn’t end in the nave — more mosaics can be found in the crypt below the church with dozens of royal tombs.
Cattedrale di Monreale (Palermo, Italy)
They say that all that glitters is not gold, but in the case of Cattedrale di Monreale (Monreale Cathedral) in Palermo, Italy, the adage proves false. With a mosaic made from nearly 5,000 pounds of pure gold, the cathedral’s interior is truly luminous. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monreale Cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in Sicily, and with its gold-laden mosaic, it’s easy to see why.
Built between 1170 and 1189, the mosaic was constructed by craftsmen from Constantinople. Installed throughout the cathedral’s nave, walls, and ceilings, the work features Christian saints and important scenes from the Bible. Naturally, the mosaic’s centralized figure is Jesus Christ, who takes up nearly 300 square feet of space in the aspe above the altar.
Hair Murals (Brazil)
In the past year, street artist Fábio Gomes Trindade has gone viral for his eye-catching creations found on the streets of his home country. Inspired by an acerola tree planted in the Brazilian state of Goiás, the artist began spray-painting murals depicting natural scenery. Often referred to as the “Hair Murals,” these large-scale paintings depict Black women and children, whose hairstyles are made of natural materials, such as flowering trees, vines, and bushes.
The artist’s strong social media presence has garnered many fans, including a few celebrities like Viola Davis and Tina Knowles (mother of Beyoncé Knowles) who have re-posted his work. As Trindade continues to gain world recognition, all eyes are on him to see what he will create next.
Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument (Ganisi, Georgia)
As neighboring nations, Russia and Georgia have had a fraught history over the centuries. Even after a peace treaty was signed between the two nations in 1783, the relationship proved tense. In 1983, the countries attempted to put a healing salve on their fractured alliance by commemorating their 200-year-old treaty with the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument.
Designed by renowned Georgian architect Giorgi Chakhava, the monument’s interior features a mural mosaic composed of painted tiles by artists Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, and Nodar Malazoni. Depicting scenes from Russian and Georgian histories, the monument also offers 360-degree views of Georgia’s stunning peaks in the Greater Caucasus range.
Shah Cheragh (Shiraz, Iran)
Since Shah Cheragh translates to “King of Light,” it comes as no surprise that the interior of this funerary mosque is spectacular. Given its translation, however, it is rather surprising that the mosaic was not built for a king. Instead, Shah Cheragh’s dazzling glass mosaic was designed with a queen in mind.
In the 14th century, Queen Tash Khātūn requested that the traditional Persian artform of mirrored mosaics be inlaid inside the mosque, which had been a pilgrimage site for Muslims for centuries. In order to be fit for a queen (Queen Tash Khātūn was eventually entombed inside the mosque), ornate chandeliers were hung from the ceiling and the mosaic was finished with pieces of silver. As a result, the mosque’s interior resembles a brilliant mirrorball that continues to draw visitors today.
"Neighbors Helping Neighbors"(San Diego, California)
Perhaps the largest of its kind in the world, the glass tile mosaic on the Villa Harvey Mandel Building in San Diego is titled “Neighbors Helping Neighbors: A Tribute to Donor, Volunteers, Staff.” Installed on the exterior of an affordable housing complex run by Father Joe’s Villages, the 3,096-square-foot piece was completed in September 2003.
Designed by world-renowned artist Italo Botti in collaboration with Father Joe Carroll, the large-scale work was created to bring accessible art and joy to the community. Depicting people in the neighborhood working together, the glass mosaic features hundreds of panels, including eight clear glass panels installed over the windows to allow light into the building.
Magic Gardens (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
In an attempt to beautify their Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1960s, Isaiah Zagar and his wife, Julia, began renovating rundown buildings by installing colorful mural mosaics. Using handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, and mirrors, they created elaborate, repurposed mosaics to adorn the buildings of South Street. Eventually, the Zagars teamed up with other artists to expand their reach, and parts of the neighborhood transformed into visual art pieces.
In 1991, Zagar focused his attention on a property near his studio, which resulted in an impressive multitude of mosaic murals. When someone bought the property in 2004, the new owners requested that the work be dismantled. In order to save the artwork, the community raised enough funds to incorporate the work into a nonprofit organization, and Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens was born. Today, the space contains two indoor galleries and two sculpture gardens, and hosts tours, art activities, workshops, and more.
"We Are Still Here" (San Jose, California)
Hand-painted by artist Alfonso Salazar, this colorful mural can be found in San Jose, California, along the Guadalupe River Trail. Entitled “We Are Still Here,” the 603-square-foot mural pays tribute to the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, who once inhabited the Bay Area along the Guadalupe River.
Unveiled in August 2021 and featuring gigantic hummingbirds that frame the face of the tribe’s current chairperson, the mural is not only beautiful but also contains a powerful message. In 1920, a federal decree claimed that the Muwekma Ohlone tribe was extinct — a conviction that tribal members continue to fight today. Painted in collaboration with tribal leadership, “We Are Still Here” quite literally paints a picture of an Indigenous people who refuse to be forgotten.
Parc Güell (Barcelona, Spain)
Built between 1900 and 1914, Parc Güell was designed by famous Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi. Funded by Eusebi Güell, the entrepreneur who discovered Gaudi, the park was built to create a stylish place for Barcelonians to gather, while also honoring the Modernist art movement that was sweeping through the city at the time.
Located in Carmel Hill, Parc Güell is commonly recognized as one of the most accomplished mosaics around the world. Using ceramics, glass, broken marble, and tiles, Gaudi used his signature sense of color and whimsical sensibility to create an otherworldly effect. In addition to the undulating mosaic walkway that overlooks the city, Parc Güell is known for “El Drac,” a tiled lizard which is said to bring good luck to those who touch it.
Fishpond (Croydon, England)
Situated in an unassuming borough of London, “Fishpond” was created in 1996 by artist Gary Drostle. Installed in a small public garden in the town of Croydon, the 6.5-foot-long floor mosaic depicts koi fish swimming through water. Using a reverse technique to lay the tile, Drostle employed vitreous ceramic tesserae to give the piece a sense of movement.
After winning the “International Mosaic of the Year: Landscape” Award in 1997, Fishpond’s fame launched Drostle’s career. Since then, he has become known for his ability to depict the undulations of water and has been commissioned to create several other mosaics. Other notable pieces by Drostle include the “River of Life” (2010) at the University of Iowa and “Reflections in the Rhynes” (2009), a triptych of floor mosaics in the English town of Weston-super-Mare.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps (San Francisco, California)
Located in one of San Francisco’s residential neighborhoods, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps can be found on Moraga Street, between 15th and 16th avenues. Featuring a spectacular mosaic stairway that climbs one of the city’s infamous hills, this work of art is the result of a robust community project. Designed by artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher, the project began in 2003 and was completed with the help of many community members.
Featuring 163 stairs, each step is decorated with broken tiles to create the illusion of climbing from the sea to the sky, with the lower steps depicting fish, shells, and sea creatures. The mural eventually spirals up towards a brilliant night sky featuring a crescent moon, before ending with a blazing orange-and-yellow sun.
Madaba Map (Madaba, Jordan)
Located inside St. George’s Church in the town of Madaba is one of the most historic mosaics in the world. When the Greek Orthodox church was being built in 1884, construction workers discovered an ancient relic from the Byzantine era: the Madaba Mosaic Map. While experts believe the original piece was between 50 and 82 feet long, only one-quarter of the map remains undamaged and can be seen on the floor of the church.
Created in 560 CE, the mosaic displays an intricate map of the Holy Land using thousands of tiles to depict ancient biblical scenes. Featuring fish swimming in the Jordan River, the gates of Jerusalem, and Mount Sinai, each scene is labeled with captions in Greek, with over 150 inscriptions in total.
Lace Mural (Calais, France)
Polish artist NeSpoon is best known for her ability to replicate lace art through varied mediums. One of the artist’s most arresting murals is on the exterior of the Museum for Lace and Fashion in Calais, France — an old lace factory in a city that was once recognized as the capital of the industry.
NeSpoon chose the site for her 2020 mural as a way to pay homage to the city’s history. The street artist effortlessly combined old and new by spray-painting an oversized 1894 machine lace pattern on the brick building’s façade. NeSpoon often uses lace as artistic inspiration due to its symmetrical aesthetics, and believes that the material has an intrinsic sense of order and harmony.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (Ravenna, Italy)
Located in an unassuming brick building, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia houses the remains of a famed Roman empress who died in 450 CE. As one of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ravenna, Italy, the mausoleum’s interior is laden with mosaics from the fifth century that depict Christian iconography.
While the lower walls are made of marble, the rest of the interior is covered in a magnificent tile mosaic. Featuring scenes that depict the triumph of eternal life over death, the work portrays saints, shepherds, and several other icons of Christianity. The most impressive feature is the mosaicked pattern of stars set amidst a dark blue sky on the arched ceiling. The work of art is so stunning that it inspired Cole Porter to write the jazz song “Night and Day” in 1932.
"Elephant Playing With a World Balloon" (Berlin, Germany)
In a city renowned for its magnificent street art, “Elephant Playing With a World Balloon” is often lauded as one of the best murals in Berlin — and even the world. This spectacular spray-painted mural stands 78 feet tall and takes up nearly 8,000 square feet of space. Painted by Jadore Tong, a French-Cambodian street artist, the mural depicts a large elephant holding a balloon that resembles Earth.
Painted in 2017, the massive mural can be found on the back wall of a building located at Wilhelmstraße 7 in Berlin. In general, the piece conveys a message of hope. A beloved animal in many cultures, the elephant represents luck, prosperity, and wisdom. And since the piece incorporates words such as “playfulness,” “unity,” and “love,” it invokes a sense of lightheartedness and joy.
Jameh Mosque of Yazd (Yazd, Iran)
Although the Jameh Mosque of Yazd is now used for the town’s Muslim congregation, the building originated as a Sassanid fire temple. The oldest tilework in this Iranian mosque dates back to 1365 CE, but since the mosque underwent a 43-year renovation in the 20th century, the mural remains in perfect condition.
With mosaic patterns laid throughout the interior, the double-dome chamber contains one of the structure’s most astonishing pieces — a massive faience mosaic.
This tile-making technique was common prior to the development of glass. To create the faience used inside the mosque, quartz dust or sand had to be melted, molded, and then glazed before it was inlaid into delicate mosaic patterns of blue, green, yellow, and red.