Glazed tiles were important building materials that added a special luster to China's classical architecture. Though they appeared more than a thousand years ago as building materials, glazed tiles were not used very often until after the Tang Dynasty. Even during the Song and Yuan dynasties their use was not extensive. Not until the Ming and Qing dynasties were glazed tiles and other ornaments in general use in the construction of imperial palaces, altars, temples and gardens. Then magnificent buildings appeared one after another in Beijing and other parts of the country.
The most famous pagoda made of glazed tiles and bricks is now located at Youguo Temple in Kaifeng, Henan Province. Because it is the color of rusted iron, people call it an iron pagoda, though in fact no iron was used in its construction. Built during the reign of Emperor Qingli (1041-48) of the Northern Song Dynasty, it is the earliest and biggest glazed pagoda now existing in China. Many small glazed pagodas have been unearthed from ancient tombs. For instance, a tiny glazed pagoda of bright colors was excavated in Henan. It was believed to be a work of 999 during the Northern Song Dynasty. Since during the Song and Yuan periods the production of glazed ware was still very limited and glazed tiles were not usually used in building pagodas, the so-called iron pagoda in Kaifeng may be the only one remaining from that period.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties the production of glazed ware as building materials began to develop in Beijing and other parts of the country. The number of glazed pagodas, thus, also increased. More than a hundred have been preserved. The glazed pagoda at the Grand Bao'en Temple (Temple for Paying a Debt of Gratitude) in Nanjing, built at the order of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, was once considered one of the great miracles of the world. Unfortunately, only some separate glazed parts of the pagoda remain. Other glazed pagodas built during the Ming and Qing dynasties are also priceless works of art in human history. The Feihong (Flying Rainbow) Pagoda at Guangsheng Temple in Hongtong County, Shanxi Province, was built during the Ming Dynasty and has been kept in good state. It has gorgeous sculptures and ornaments and a unique style of structure. The glazed pagodas at Beijing's Fragrant Hills, Jade Spring Hill, and Summer Palace and Chengde's Sumeru Fushou Temple are all beautiful architectural creations.