Terracotta: A Timeless Material

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Lawn & Garden

Terracotta, also known as “terra cotta,” is a durable material that has been used for thousands of years. The famous terracotta army of China, crafted over 2,000 years ago, and the Venus of Dolni Vestonice, the oldest-known terracotta sculpture dating back to 26,000-24,000 B.C.E., are just a few examples of its longevity. Today, terracotta is widely used but not always fully understood.

History of Terracotta

The term “terracotta” comes from the Latin for “baked earth” and has been in use since the 18th century. However, the practice of firing clay dates back much further. Terracotta is a low-fired, porous ceramic that has been used for millennia. Its reddish or pink color is due to the iron in the clay, which oxidizes during the firing process. Clay is the basic substance that comes from the earth and can be mixed with other materials to create clay bodies. Terracotta is a type of earthenware that is fired at a low temperature, between 1,800 to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (942 to 1,148 degrees Celsius), and remains porous when unglazed.

Historic examples of terracotta have been found all over the world, from the Mediterranean to sub-Saharan Africa and the pre-Columbian Americas.

The famous terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, was discovered in 1974 and buried with the emperor in 210–209 B.C.E. as funerary art to protect him in the afterlife.

Terracotta in Architecture

Terracotta is a versatile material that is used in a variety of applications beyond ancient armies and sculptures. It can be found in roofs and architecture all over the world. Clay roof tiles, also known as terracotta roofs, are a familiar sight in Southern Europe and Southern Florida. They are long-lasting and good at reflecting heat back into the atmosphere, making them energy efficient. Color glazes expand the aesthetic possibilities and provide water resistance.

“It’s just such a flexible product,” says Alicia Cordle, ceramic engineer and design coordinator at Ludowici Roof Tiles. “You can do so many things with it.”

Terracotta is a versatile material that can be used for walls, floors, art, and functional objects like coffee mugs, plates, and bowls. Terracotta is less brittle than porcelain and can be molded, hand-built, or thrown on a wheel. Terracotta can also be used for decorative purposes, as seen in iconic buildings like New York’s Flat Iron Building and Chicago’s Wrigley Building. Terracotta plant pots are popular as they provide insulation and allow excess moisture to evaporate. However, not all plants are suitable for terracotta, and soaking the pot in advance is recommended to prevent soil from drying out too quickly. With a few terracotta flower pots, some gravel, and a grill, it’s possible to enjoy the flavors of a clay tandoor oven in your own backyard.


1. What is terracotta?

Terracotta is a type of clay that has been fired at high temperatures to make it hard and durable. It is commonly used for sculpture, pottery, and building materials.

2. What are some common uses for terracotta?

Terracotta can be used for a variety of purposes such as plant pots, roof tiles, bricks, figurines, and even ancient weapons and armor.

3. Where did terracotta originate?

Terracotta has been used by civilizations all over the world, with some of the earliest examples coming from ancient China and Greece.

4. How is terracotta made?

Terracotta is made by mixing clay with water to form a moldable material. Once shaped, it is then fired in a kiln at high temperatures to make it hard and durable.

5. What are the benefits of using terracotta for plant pots?

Terracotta plant pots are porous, which allows for better drainage and air circulation for the roots of plants. They are also durable and can last for many years if taken care of properly.

6. How did ancient civilizations use terracotta for weapons and armor?

Ancient civilizations would use terracotta to create armor and weapons such as helmets, shields, and even spears. The clay would be shaped and then fired to make it hard and durable enough for combat.

7. What are some famous examples of terracotta sculptures?

The Terracotta Army in China is one of the most famous examples of terracotta sculpture, with over 8,000 life-sized soldiers and horses created to guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

8. How do you clean and maintain terracotta plant pots?

To clean terracotta plant pots, simply use a solution of water and vinegar to remove any dirt or debris. It is also recommended to seal the pots with a waterproof sealant to prevent water damage.

9. What are some modern uses for terracotta?

Terracotta is still used today for a variety of purposes such as decorative tiles, garden sculptures, and even outdoor furniture.

10. Is terracotta environmentally friendly?

Yes, terracotta is an environmentally friendly material as it is made from natural clay and does not contain any harmful chemicals.

11. Can terracotta be used for indoor plant pots?

Yes, terracotta can be used for both indoor and outdoor plant pots. However, it is important to note that it may not be suitable for plants that require high levels of moisture retention.

12. What are some tips for decorating with terracotta?

When decorating with terracotta, it is best to pair it with warm colors such as browns, oranges, and yellows. It also looks great when paired with natural materials such as wood and stone.

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