Blue tiles portugal

Blue tiles portugal DEFAULT


Spanish and Portuguese painted tiles

For the Portuguese review, see Azulejos (journal).

Azulejo (Portuguese: [ɐzuˈleʒu, ɐzuˈlɐjʒu], Spanish: [aθuˈlexo]; from the Arabic al-zillīj, الزليج)[1][2] is a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazedceramictilework. Azulejos are found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary houses, schools, and nowadays, restaurants, bars and even railways or subway stations. They are an ornamental art form, but also had a specific functional capacity like temperature control in homes.

There is also a tradition of their production in former Portuguese and Spanish colonies in North America, South America, Goa (India), Lusophone Africa, East Timor, Macau (China), and the Philippines. Azulejos constitute a major aspect of Portuguese architecture to this day and are fixtures of buildings across Portugal and its former territories. Many azulejos chronicle major historical and cultural aspects of Portuguese history.


13th to 15th century[edit]

The word azulejo (as well as the Ligurianlaggion[3]) is derived from the Arabicالزليج (al-zillīj): zellige, meaning "polished stone" because the original idea was to imitate the Byzantine and Roman mosaics. This origin shows the unmistakable Arab influences in many tiles: interlocking curvilinear, geometric or floral motifs. The craft of zellige is still in use in the Arab world in two main traditions the "Egyptian Zalij" and the "Moroccan Zellige", the latter being the most famous.

The Spanish city of Seville became the major centre of the Hispano-Moresque tile industry. The earliest azulejos in the 13th century were alicatados (panels of tile-mosaic).[4] Tiles were glazed in a single colour, cut into geometric shapes, and assembled to form geometric patterns. Many examples can be admired in the Alhambra of Granada.[5] The old techniques of cuerda seca ('dry string') and cuenca developed in Seville in the 15th century[6] These techniques were introduced into Portugal by king Manuel I after a visit to Seville in 1503. They were applied on walls and used for paving floors, such as can be seen in several rooms, and especially the Arab Room of the Sintra National Palace (including the famous cuenca tiles with the armillary sphere, symbol of king Manuel I). Other important collec The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui ('fear of empty spaces') and covered the walls completely with azulejos.

16th century[edit]

Potters from Italy came into Seville in the early 16th century and established workshops there. They brought with them the maiolica techniques which allowed the artists to represent a much larger number of figurative themes in their compositions. The first Italian potter to move into Spain was Francisco Niculoso who settled in Seville in 1498.[9] Examples of his work can still be admired in situ in the Alcazar of Seville. Under the influence of the Renaissance style introduced by Italians artists, most azulejos were polychrome tile panels depicting allegorical or mythological scenes, scenes from the lives of saints or the Bible, or hunting scenes. Mannerism and the grotesque style, with its bizarre representations, had much influence on azulejos.

Until the mid-16th century the Portuguese continued to rely on foreign imports, mostly from Spain, such as the Annunciation by Francisco Niculoso in Évora, but also on a smaller scale from Antwerp (Flanders), such as the two panels by Jan Bogaerts in the Paço Ducal of Vila Viçosa (Alentejo). One of the early Portuguese masters of the 16th century was Marçal de Matos, to whom Susanna and the Elders (1565), in Quinta da Bacalhoa, Azeitão, is attributed, as well as the Adoration of the Shepherds (in the National Museum of Azulejos in Lisbon). The Miracle of St. Roque (in the Church of S. Roque, Lisbon) is the first dated Portuguese azulejo composition (1584). It is the work of Francisco de Matos, probably the nephew and pupil of Marçal de Matos. Both drew their inspiration from Renaissance and Mannerist paintings and engravings from Italy and Flanders. A fine collection of 16th-century azulejos (azulejos Hispano-mouriscos) can be found in the Museu da Rainha D. Leonor in Beja, Portugal (the former Convento da Conceição).

In the late 16th century, checkered azulejos were used as decoration for large surfaces, such as in churches and monasteries. Diagonally placed plain white tiles were surrounded by blue square ones and narrow border tiles.

  • 16th-century azulejos in Convent of Santa Isabel, Valladolid

  • Azulejos made by Hernando de Santiago and Juan de Víllalba in 1575[13] in Sala Nova, Palau de la Generalitat Valenciana, Valencia.

17th century[edit]

Shortly afterwards, these plain white tiles were replaced by polychrome tiles (enxaquetado rico) often giving a complex framework such as in the Igreja de Santa Maria de Marvila in Santarém, Portugal with one of the most outstanding tile-based interior decorations in Portugal.

When the diagonal tiles were replaced by a repetitive pattern of horizontal polychrome tiles, one could obtain a new design with different motifs, interlacing Mannerist drawings with representations of roses and camelias (sometimes roses and garlands). An inset votive usually depicts a scene from the life of Christ or a saint. These carpet compositions (azulejo de tapete), as they were called, elaborately framed with friezes and borders, were produced in great numbers during the 17th century. The best examples are to be found in the Igreja do Salvador, Évora, Igreja de S. Quintino, Obral de Monte Agraço, Igreja de S. Vicente, Cuba (Portugal) and the university chapel in Coimbra.

The use of azulejos for the decoration of antependia (front of an altar), imitating precious altar cloths, is typical for Portugal. The panel may be in one piece, or composed of two or three sections. They were used in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Some antependia of the 17th century imitate oriental fabrics (calico, chintz). The golden fringes of the altar cloth were imitated by yellow motifs on the painted border tiles. Excellent examples can be found in the Hospital de Santa Marta, Lisbon, or in the Convent of Santa Maria de Almoster and the Convento de Santa Cruz do Buçaco.

During the same period another motif in friezes was introduced: floral vases flanked by birds, dolphins or putti, the so-called albarradas. They were probably inspired by Flemish paintings of flower vases, such as by Jan Brueghel the Elder. These were still free-standing in the 17th century, but they would be used in repetitive modules in the 18th century.

Another type of azulejo composition, called aves e ramagens ('birds and branches'), came into vogue between 1650 and 1680. They were influenced by the representations on printed textiles that were imported from India: Hindu symbols, flowers, animals and birds.

In the second half of the 17th century, the Spanish artist Gabriel del Barco y Minusca introduced into Portugal the blue-and-white tiles from Delft in the Netherlands. The workshops of Jan van Oort and Willem van der Kloet in Amsterdam created large tile panels with historical scenes for their rich Portuguese clients, such as for the Palace of the Marqueses da Fronteira in Benfica, Lisbon. But when King Peter II stopped all imports of azulejos between 1687 and 1698, the workshop of Gabriel del Barco took over the production. The last major production from Holland was delivered in 1715. Soon large, home-made blue-and-white figurative tiles, designed by academically trained Portuguese artists, became the dominant fashion, superseding the former taste for repeated patterns and abstract decoration.

  • Carpet-style decoration
    Museu da Rainha D. Leonor; Beja, Portugal

  • Antependium decorated with azulejos
    Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça; Sagres, Portugal

  • Kings Gallery fountain, Palace of the marquis of Fronteira, Lisbon, Portugal

  • Palace of the marquis of Fronteira, Lisbon.

18th century[edit]

The late 17th and early 18th centuries became the 'Golden Age of the Azulejo', the so-called Cycle of the Masters (Ciclo dos Mestres). Mass production was started not just because of a greater internal demand, but also because of large orders came in from the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Large one-off orders were replaced by the less expensive use of repetitive tile patterns. Churches, monasteries, palaces and even houses were covered inside and outside with azulejos, many with exuberant Baroque elements.

The most prominent master-designers in these early years of the 18th century were: António Pereira (artist), Manuel dos Santos, the workshop of António de Oliveira Bernardes and his son Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes; the Master PMP (only known by his monogram) and his collaborators Teotónio dos Santos and Valentim de Almeida; Bartolomeu Antunes and his pupil Nicolau de Freitas. As their production coincided with the reign of king João V (1706–1750), the style of this period is also called the Joanine style.

During this same period appear the first 'invitation figures' (figura de convite), invented by the Master PMP and produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. These are cut-out panels of azulejos with life-size figures (footmen, halberdiers, noblemen or elegantly dressed ladies), usually placed in entrances of palaces (see Palácio da Mitra), patios and stair landings. Their purpose was to welcome visitors. They can only be found in Portugal.

In the 1740s the taste of Portuguese society changed from the monumental narrative panels to smaller and more delicately executed panels in Rococo style. These panels depict gallant and pastoral themes as they occur in the works of the French painter Antoine Watteau. Fine examples are the façade and the gardens of the Palace of the Dukes de Mesquitela in Carnide (Lisbon) and the Corredor das Mangas in the Queluz National Palace. The mass-produced tiles acquired a more stereotypic design with predominant polychrome irregular shell motifs.

The reconstruction of Lisbon after the great earthquake of 1755 gave rise to a more utilitarian role for decoration with azulejos. This bare and functional style would become known as the Pombaline style, named after the Marquis of Pombal, who was put in charge of rebuilding the country. Small devotional azulejo panels started to appear on buildings as protection against future disasters.

In Mexico, a large producer of Talavera—a Mexican maiolica, there are several instances of the use of azulejos on buildings and mansions. One particular mansion, the Casa de los Azulejos in Mexico City, was built in 1737 for the Count and Countess of El Valle de Orizaba. Ceramic making traditions were imported to Mexico in the early 16th century and have flourished.

As a reaction, simpler and more delicate Neoclassical designs started to appear with more subdued colours. These themes were introduced in Portugal by the engravings of Robert and James Adams. The Real Fábrica de Louça do Rato, with the master-designer Sebastião Inácio de Almeida and the painter Francisco de Paula e Oliveira, became in this period an important manufacturer of the characteristic so-called Rato-tiles. Another important tile painter in this period was Francisco Jorge da Costa.

With great Portuguese influence, the city of São Luís, in Maranhão, in Brazil, preserves the largest urban agglomeration of azulejos from the XVIII and XIX centuries, throughout Latin America. In 1997, the Historic Center of São Luís was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. São Luís is also known as "Cidade dos Azulejos".[17]

  • Albarrada, flower vase by Valentim de Almeida (between 1729 and 1731); Cathedral of Porto, Portugal.

  • Azulejos vault in Óbidos, Portugal.

  • Checkered azulejos on the façade of the Igreja Matriz de Cambra, Vouzela, Portugal

19th century[edit]

In the first half of the 19th century, there was a stagnation in the production of decorative tiles, owing first to the incursion of the Napoleonic army and later to social and economic changes. When around 1840 immigrant Brazilians started an industrialized production in Porto, the Portuguese took over the Brazilian fashion of decorating the façades of their houses with azulejos. While these factories produces high-relief tiles in one or two colours, the Lisbon factories started using another method: the transfer-print method on blue-and-white or polychrome azulejos. In the last decades of the 19th century, the Lisbon factories started to use another type of transfer-printing: using creamware blanks.

While these industrialized methods produced simple, stylized designs, the art of hand-painting tiles was not dead, as applied by Manuel Joaquim de Jesus and especially Luís Ferreira. Luis Ferreira was the director of the Lisbon factory Viúva Lamego and covered the whole façade of this factory with allegorical scenes. He produced panels, known as Ferreira das Tabuletas, with flower vases, trees, and allegorical figures, applying the trompe-l'œil technique. These hand-painted panels are fine examples of the eclectic Romantic culture of the late 19th century.

Mid-19th century, in England, in addition to encaustic tiles and mosaics, the Mintons factory also produced azulejos [25]

  • Interior of the train station, Porto, Portugal

  • Façade of the Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas in Lisbon.

  • Façade of a grand house in Aveiro, Portugal.

  • Portuguese Azulejos in Macau

  • Portuguese Azulejo depicting the arrival of a ship with Port wine cargo in St. John's, Canada, 1892

20th century[edit]

At the start of the 20th century, Art Nouveau azulejos started to appear from artists such as Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Júlio César da Silva and José António Jorge Pinto. In 1885 Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro founded a ceramics factory in Caldas da Rainha, where he created many of the pottery designs for which this city is known. In this factory he has his own a museum São Rafael devoted to his fantastically imaginative work, especially the decorative plates and his satirical stone figures, such as the Zé Povinho (a representation of the worrying common man).

Around the 1930s, Art Deco-azulejos made their appearance with their principal artist António Costa. The monumental decorations, consisting of 20,000 azulejos, in the vestibule of the São Bento railway station in Porto, created by Jorge Colaço, show in its historical themes the narrative style of the romantic 'picture-postcard'. This one of the most notable creations with azulejos of the 20th century. The façades of the churches of Santo Ildefonso and Congregados equally attest to the artistic mastery of Jorge Colaço. Other artists from this period include Mário Branco and Silvestre Silvestri, who decorated in 1912 the lateral façade of the Carmo Church, and Eduardo Leite for his work on the Almas Chapel (imitating the style of the 18th century), both in Porto.

20th-century artists include Jorge Barradas, Carlos Botelho, Jorge Martins, Sá Nogueira, Menez and Paula Rego. Maria Keil designed the large abstract panels in the initial nineteen stations of the Lisbon Underground (between 1957 and 1972). Through these works she became a driving force in the revival and the updating of the art of the azulejo, which had gone in some decline. Her decorations of the station Intendente is considered a masterpiece of contemporary tile art[citation needed].

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon houses the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in the world.

  • Capela de Santa Catarina, Porto; façade was covered in 1929.

  • Santa Maria Church in Covilhã; façade was covered in the 1940s.

  • Art Nouveau azulejos on a shop in Porto.

  • Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Chiva, Valencia.

  • Portuguese Azulejos in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau

  • 21st-century azulejos (Porto)

Street Art[edit]

BerriBlue Azulejo Mural in Lisbon
BerriBlue azulejo street art piece in Lisbon, 2021

Azulejos, being such an iconic part of the aesthetics of Portuguese streets, have had a large influence on local street artists.

Many artists have drawn on the repeating patterns common in azulejos to inform their work, such as Add Fuel, who works in large scale murals.
[29] Add Fuel is particularly known for adding a modern twist to the patterns in his work. [30][31] Other artists have created actual azulejo works in ceramic tiles. One example is Surealejos, an Italian designer, who moved to Lisbon in 2008 started, and creating azulejo pieces with surreal imagery. [31].Surealejos works with imagery printed onto ceramic tiles, and is also well known as a creator of works for interior design. [32]

BerriBlue, a street artist and painter based in Porto, uses a more tradional technique, hand-painting her ceramic murals with glazes, which are then fired and applied to city walls as street art works. She currently has pieces in city centre in both Porto and Lisbon. [33]
BerriBlue has also sold azulejo pieces internationally, including at auction in DESA, Warsaw, in 2021. BerriBlue is considered one of the most influential street artists in Porto, where she moved in 2016. Her work draws from the everyday experience of living in Porto and expresses it in the traditional technique of her new home town.[34][35]

Lisbon Metro[edit]

Azulejo tiles are present in almost every station in the Lisbon Metro system. Initially, painter Maria Keil (1914–2012), wife of metro system architect Francisco Keil do Amaral (1910–1975) created the works for the Metro stations.

A new expansion, completed in 1988, featured works by more contemporary Portuguese artists: Rolando de Sá Nogueira in Laranjeiras, Júlio Pomar in Alto dos Moinhos, Manuel Cargaleiro in Colégio Militar/Luz, and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva in Cidade Universitária. Following on from this, many artists have been commissioned to decorate new and refurbished stations.

Azulejo pieces in Lisbon Metro Stations[edit]

StationLineArtist(s) and date of completion
AlamedaGreen Maria Keil, 1972, & Noronha da Costa,1998
AlamedaRed Costa Pinheiro, Alberto Carneiro, & Juahana Bloomstedt, 1998
AlfornelosBlue Ana Vidigal, 2004
Alto dos MoinhosBlue Júlio Pomar, I988
AlvaladeGreen Maria Keil, 1972, Bela Silva, 2006, & Maria Keil, 2007
Amadora EsteBlue Graça Morais, 2004
AmeixoeiraYellow Irene Buarque, 2004
AnjosGreen Maria Keil, 1966 & Rogério Ribeiro, 1982
AreeiroGreen Maria Keil, 1972 & Júlia Ventura, 2013
ArroiosGreen Maria Keil, 1972
AvenidaBlue Rogério Ribeiro, 1959, 1982
Baixa-ChiadoBlue Ângelo de Sousa, 1998
Baixa-ChiadoGreen Ângelo de Sousa, 1998
Bela VistaRed Querubim Lapa, 1998
Cabo RuivoRed David de Almeida, 1998
Cais do SodréGreen António Dacosta, 1998 & Pedro Morais, 1998
Campo GrandeYellow Eduardo Nery, 1993
Campo GrandeGreen Eduardo Nery, 1993
Campo PequenoYellow Maria Keil, 1959, 1979, & Francisco Simões, 1994
CarnideBlue José de Guimarães, 1997
ChelasRed Jorge Martins, 1998
Cidade UniversitáriaYellow Manuel Cargaleiro (Transposition in azulejo of a 1940 painting by Vieira da Silva), 1988
Colégio Militar/LuzBlue Manuel Cargaleiro, 1988
Entre CamposYellow Maria Keil, 1959, 1973, & Bartolomeu Cid dos Santos, 1993, & José de Santa Bárbara, 1993
IntendenteGreen Maria Keil, 1966 e 1977
Jardim ZoológicoBlue Maria Keil, 1959 & Júlio Resende, 1995
LaranjeirasBlue Rolando Sá Nogueira (in collaboration with Fernando Conduto) 1988
LumiarYellow António Moutinho, Marta Lima, & Susete Rebelo, 2004
Marquês de PombalYellow Menez, 1995
Marquês de PombalBlue Maria Keil, João Cutileiro, & Charters de Almeida, 1995
Martim MonizGreen Maria Keil, 1966, & Gracinda Candeias, 1997, & José João Brito, 1997
MoscavideRed Manuel Bastos, 2012
OlivaisRed Nuno de Siqueira & Cecília de Sousa, 1998
OrienteRed António Ségui, Artur Boyd, Errö, Hundertwasser, Yayoi Kusama, Joaquim Rodrigo, Abdoulaye Konaté, Sean Scully, Raza, Zao Wou Ki, & Magdalena Abakanowicz, 1998
ParqueBlue Maria Keil, 1959 & Françoise Schein, 1994 & Federica Matta, 1994 & João Cutileiro, 1995
PicoasYellow Maria Keil, 1959, 1982, & Martins Correia, 1995
PontinhaBlue Jacinto Luís, 1997
Praça de EspanhaBlue Maria Keil, 1959, 1980
Quinta das ConchasYellow Joana Rosa, 2004 & Manuel Baptista, 2004
RatoYellow Vieira da Silva (transposed to azulejo by Manuel Cargaleiro), & Arpad Szènés, 1997
RestauradoresBlue Maria Keil, 1959, 1977, Luiz Ventura, 1994, Nadir Afonso & Lagoa Henriques, 1998
RomaGreen Maria Keil, 1972, Lourdes de Castro & René Bertholo, 2006
RossioGreen Maria Keil, 1963 & Artur Rosa & Helena Almeida, 1998
SaldanhaRed Almada Negreiros (transposed by José Almada Negreiros), 2009
SaldanhaYellow Maria Keil, 1959, 1977, Jorge Vieira, 1996, 1997, Luis Filipe de Abreu, 1996, 1997
Santa ApolóniaBlue José Santa-Bárbara, 2007
São SebastiãoBlue Maria Keil, 1959, 1977, 2009
São SebastiãoRed Maria Keil, 2009 & Catarina Almada Negreiros, 2009 & Rita Almada Negreiros, 2009
Senhor RoubadoYellow José Pedro Croft, 2004
TelheirasGreen Eduardo Batarda, 2002
Terreiro do PaçoBlue João Vieira, 2007


In the Philippines, a former Spanish colony, the tradition survives of decorative tiling on staircases, where the tiles are placed on the vertical rise right below each step. It sees a more ubiquitous application in votive diptych tiles depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as well as other religious themes. These tiles, which are also coloured brown or polychrome besides the conventional blue, are placed on the wall beside the front door or principal gate of a house, and are encased in a black metal frame surmounted by a cross.

The tiles can also be seen in Canada, United States, Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, Macau, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Peru and several cities of Mexico.

Historical azulejo industries[edit]

State of protection[edit]

Due to their prevalence and relative ease of access in historic and often decayed buildings across Portugal, these type of tiles are vulnerable to vandalism, neglect and theft. In Lisbon, the tiles can sometimes be found for sale in street fairs and the black market,[37] despite recent efforts to raise awareness among buyers, that are mainly foreign tourists. Since 2013 that it is forbidden to demolish buildings with tile-covered façades in this city, in an attempt to protect its cultural heritage from deterioration.[38] The highest number of thefts does occur in the capital, and Lisbon authorities estimate that 25% of the total number of artistic tiles existent in that city has been lost between the years 1980 and 2000.[39]

The main azulejo protection group in Portugal, SOS Azulejo, created in 2007 and that works as a dependency of Polícia Judiciária,[39] has identified the limitation and control of the sale of ancient tiles in those markets as their main goal as of now.[38] The city of Lisbon has also developed 'Banco do Azulejo', that collects and stores around 30 thousand tiles provenient from demolished or intervened buildings, and also from donations to the city, in a project similar to others existent in the cities of Aveiro, Porto and Ovar.[40]

In August 2017, a new law was put in place in order to prevent both the demolition of tile-covered buildings across the country, and the initiation of renovating operations that could mean the removal of tiles, even if they only affect the building's interior.[41][42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"azulejo – definition of azulejo in Spanish". Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 8 April 2019. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  2. ^"Azulejos: gallery and history of handmade Portuguese and Spanish tiles". Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  3. ^Cf. the Italian noun laggione on the Il nuovo De Mauro dictionary.
  4. ^La Ruta de la Ceramica, Asociación Española de Fabricantes de Azulejos, Castellón, 2000
  5. ^Les Métamorphoses de l’azur, Ars Latina, Paris, 1994
  6. ^Coentro, Susana; Trindade, Rui A. A.; Mirão, José; Candeias, António; Alves, Luís C.; Silva, Rui M. C.; Muralha, Vânia S. F. (1 January 2014). "Hispano-Moresque ceramic tiles from the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha (Coimbra, Portugal)". Journal of Archaeological Science. 41: 21–28. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.07.031. hdl:10174/13806. ISSN 0305-4403.
  7. ^City Hall of Granada, Tourism office, Cuarto Real Plaza de los Campos s/n Realejo. Granada
  8. ^, Mudejar Chapel of San Bartolomé
  9. ^Morales, Alfredo J. – Francisco Niculoso Pisano, Arte Hispalense, Diputación de Sevilla, 1991
  10. ^Guillermo García Ramos (1978). Jornadas Científicas sobre Cerámica y Vidrio. University of Seville. ISBN .
  11. ^MARATANIA, Los azulejos de la Casa de Pilatos de los hermanos Pulido – 152
  12. ^, THE CASA DE PILATOS – A DREAM ANDALUSIAN PALACE IN THE HEART OF SEVILLE, archived from the original on 2017-04-21, retrieved 2018-04-06
  15. ^Mirta Linero Baroni; Juan Ramón Muñíz Álvarez (2015), "Restos de azulejería. Los Azulejos"(PDF download), Aportaciones arqueológicas al análisis del arte decorativo murario en Panamá del siglo XVI - Azulejería sevillana del convento de Santo Domingo, Panamá Viejo, Patronage Panamá Viejo, Association of Independent Professionals of the Archeology of Asturias, p. 12. read online at
  16. ^"Puebla de los Ángeles". Centro Virtual Cervantes, Instituto Cervantes (in Spanish).
  17. ^Bogéa, Isabella (9 November 2012). "A HERANÇA LUSITANA DA CIDADE DOS AZULEJOS". eGov UFSC (in Portuguese). Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  18. ^Government of the Republic of Portugal. "Palácio Nacional de Sintra - detalhe" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  19. ^Porto Editora (2003). "Sé Catedral de Lisboa". Infopédia (in Portuguese). Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  20. ^"Refectory". (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  21. ^"MOSTEIRO DE ALCOBAÇA". Portugal em 360º Distrito de Leiria. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  22. ^"Monumento". Palau Ducal dels Borja website. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  23. ^Gonzalez Obregón, Luis (1909). "La casa de los azulejos"(PDF). México viejo y anecdótico. Robarts Toronto. p. 201.
  24. ^Terán Bonilla, José Antonio; Velázquez Thierry, Luz de Lourdes (2010). Templo de San Francisco Acatepec. Antología del Barroco Poblano. El Errante. ISBN .
  25. ^Digby Wyatt, May 26, 1858, Journal of the Society of Arts, On the influence exercised on ceramic manufacturers by the late Mr. Herbert Minton, p.442 [1]
  26. ^ "Jardines del Prado". Archived from the original on 2017-03-23. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  27. ^Plaza 25 de julio,
  28. ^"Parc du Portugal". Lonely Planet.
  29. ^Machado, Diogo. "Add Fuel | About". Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  30. ^Johnson, Eme. "Diogo Machado, the Portuguese street artist inspired by the azulejo tradition". Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  31. ^ ab"Patterns of Lisbon. Contemporary Azulejos". Travel In Patterns. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  32. ^BLANCO MEDINA, EVA. "Los azulejos surrealistas de esta firma portuguesa tienen la capacidad de transformar cualquier estancia". Vogue Spain. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  33. ^BerriBlue. "BerriBlue | Azulejo". Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  34. ^"SZTUKA ULICY - exhibition catalogue"(PDF). DESA. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  35. ^Aukcja Sztuka Ulicy, 16 marca 2021 w DESA Unicum on YouTube
  36. ^"Museu Histórico e Artístico do Maranhão". National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage.
  37. ^"Thieves target historic Portuguese decorative tiles". The Straits Times. 8 August 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  38. ^ ab"A lei protege os azulejos mas há quem os continue a vender" [The law protects azulejos, but there are still some who sell them]. Público (in Portuguese). 23 August 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  39. ^ ab"Câmaras apertam regras para proteger azulejos mas furtos estão a aumentar" [Cities tighten rules but number of thefts is increasing]. Público (in Portuguese). 19 April 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  40. ^"Em Lisboa, o Banco do Azulejo já funciona e inventário vai a meio" [In Lisbon, 'Banco do Azulejo' is already operational and its inventory is halfway]. Público (in Portuguese). 18 April 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  41. ^"Demolição de fachadas com azulejos interdita em todo o país" [Demolition of façades with tiles banned all over the country]. TSF (in Portuguese). 21 August 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  42. ^"Lei n.º 79/2017 - Protege o património azulejar" [Law 79/2017 - Protecting the tile heritage]. Diário da República Eletrónico (in Portuguese). 18 August 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.


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  • Mucznik, Sonia. – The Azulejos of Lisbon
  • Sabo, Rioleta; Falcato, Jorge. N. and photographs by Nicolas Lemonnier – Portuguese Decorative Tiles, New York, London and Paris, 1998; ISBN 0-7892-0481-9
  • Barros Veloso, A. J.; Almasqué, Isabel – Portuguese Tiles and Art Nouveau / O Azulejo Portugués ea Arte Nova, Edições Inapa, Portugal, 2000; ISBN 972-8387-64-4

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Azulejos.

One of the most emblematic representations of Porto’s history are the beautiful azulejo tiles we see all over the city which are known as azulejos.
So what is the history of azulejo tiles? Where are the best places to see azulejo tiles in Porto? And where can you buy them? Let’s find out!

A brief history of azulejo tiles in Portugal

It was King Manuel I of Portugal who brought azulejo tiles from Seville, in Spain, to Portugal, during the fifteenth century. Azulejos were very common in parts of the Iberian Peninsula dominated by the Islamic Expansion during the middle ages. Indeed, the word azulejo comes from the Arabic word al zellige which means “the polished stone”.

perola bolhao store porto

Portugal imported its azulejos tiles from Spain, Italy and Holland until the Portuguese mastered the art during the 16th century. In Portugal, the art has developed its own forms, changing from being just geometric shapes and flowers to something that tells stories, mostly of religious nature.
Indeed, azulejo tiles in Porto are a great example of how different cultures and eras can give life to something so symbolic and so beautiful.   

Let’s discover the best places to see azulejo tiles in Porto:

Porto ‘s cathedral (1729 – 1731)

Terreiro da Sé
porto cathedral azulejos tiles

Within the dark and gothic cloisters of Porto’s cathedral, you can’t help but be taken back by the blue and white work of the azulejos art.
It took researchers some time to discover who was the true artist behind the 5.56m by 3.50m azulejo tiles in Porto’s cathedral. After looking at shipping documents, they realized there was a high volume of azulejos ordered from Mocambo, Lisbon between 1729 and 1731. Mocambo neighborhood, which is now called Madragoa in Lisbon, is known to be one of the first places to have pottery and ceramic ovens.
With that information in mind, the art has been attributed to painter Valentim de Almeida because his name came up in the shipping documents and he even lived in Mocambo neighborhood.
The painting was inspired by the Song of Solomon from the Old Testament which gave researchers an idea about the political and religious climate when the piece was painted.
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento station. Sé do Porto is a 5 minutes walking distance.

São Bento Station (1903)

Praça Almeida Garrett 
sao bento train station azulejo tiles porto

We’ve written about the history of São Bento Station and the stubborn ghost that hunts it. Indeed, visiting São Bento Station is one of the top things to do when you’re in Porto.
Upon entering the station, you’ll see the extraordinary hall covered in 20,000 azulejo tiles in Porto, courtesy of Jorge Colaço. Colaço’s work, which covers an area of 551 m2, is truly one of a kind. The tiles tell a story as if we’re being transported through time.
Jorge de Colaço wanted to depict important moments of Portuguese history (mostly the foundation of the Portuguese kingdom and the Portuguese overseas empire) as well as daily life moments from the North of Portugal. But within the São Bento train station you can also find the seasons of the year, professions and muslim inspired azulejos tiles.
A really great way to explore this train station is to book a tour with us, as we can explain with detail the significance of each panel in display 🙂
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento. The railway station is a 1 minute walking distance.

Igreja do Carmo (1910)

Praça de Gomes Teixeira, 10 
igreja carmo famous porto church

Igreja do Carmo is not only one of the best places to see azulejo tiles in Porto, but it’s also one of the most beautiful churches in town.
This 18th century baroque church had its tiles installed in 1910. With intricate details in blue and white colors, the painting was designed by Silvestre Silvestri and painted by Carlos Branco.
The illustrations refer to the founding of Carmelites religious order on Mount Carmel.
How to get there: take the subway to Aliados. Igreja do Carmo is an 8 minutes walking distance.

Capela das Almas (1929)

Rua de Santa Catarina, 428
capela almas tile porto

Capela das Almas is a chapel located in one of the most important commercial streets in Porto. It also sits next to Bolhão subway station which was designed by the famous Porto architect Souto de Moura.
This chapel is a great example of the use of azulejo tiles in Porto during the 19th and 20th century. During those times in the North, especially in Porto and Aveiro, it was common to use azulejo tiles with religious figures on the exterior of churches.
The paintings portray the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Francis of Assisi, as the chapel is devoted to them.
How to get there: take the subway to Bolhão station. Capela das Almas is a 1 minute walking distance.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (1932)

Rua de Santo Ildefonso, 11
santo ildefonso church exterior porto

Santo Ildefonso is an underrated place to see azulejo tiles in Porto. The artist behind the 11,000 tiles covering Santo Ildefonso church is Jorge Colaço, the same man behind the São Bento Station tiles.
Even though this baroque church was built in 1739, the tile work was on the exterior was only done in 1932.
The art represents the life of Saint Ildefonso and images from the gospel.
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento. Santo Ildefonso church is a 7 minutes walking distance.

Join a private tour with us

private tour group sao bento train station porto
If you want to check out all of these locations, I can help you with that! I make private tours in Porto that include places with the best azulejo tiles works and my tours are custom-made for you, so you can choose all the spots you want to discover and learn about.
I strive to provide the best experience and knowledge – and you all know I’m a massive history nerd so there’ll be no lack of historical facts and lore.

You can read the reviews of our tours on our TripAdvisor and then simply send an email to [email protected] telling us when you are coming to Porto and how many people are travelling with you. It will be our pleasure to guide you!

Ribeira Negra Panel (1987)

Rua de Ribeira Negra 
ribeira negra tile art porto

This 40 meters long canvas by Júlio Resende (1917 – 2011) is considered one of the best example of contemporary azulejo tiles in Porto. In 1987, the painting was created on 40 pieces of ceramic and can be found at the Ribeira tunnel entrance, right next to the famous Luiz I bridge.
Resende’s painting was dedicated to his hometown, Ribeira. It depicts “the magnificent history of misery and grandeur of the population living along the waterside in Porto.” (Nasoni Gallery, 1989).
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento. The panel is a 10 minutes walking distance.

Casa da Música (2005)

Avenida da Boavista, 604-610
casa musica vip room porto

An unusual, but equally interesting place to see azulejo tiles in Porto is in Casa da Música. Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect behind the contemporary building, created the VIP room as an attempt to merge two cultures together; the Dutch and the Portuguese.
The style of the tile painting resembled that of the 16th century tile art in Portugal and the European Renaissance.
From outside the building at night, you can see into the VIP room with its amazing tiles. I recommend you to take a guided tour inside the building, as they will show you a room entirely covered in azulejo tiles (the one on the photo above). It takes place twice a day and you can learn more about here at Casa da Música’s website.
How to get there: take the subway to Casa da Música. The building is a 5 minutes walking distance.

Banco de Materiais (2010)

Praça Carlos Alberto, 71
material bank azulejos tiles museum porto

At one of the top historic places in Porto, you can find Banco de Materiais, also called the Bank of Materials, created by the City Hall of Porto in 2010.
The idea was to preserve and display many of Porto’s decorative and construction pieces that tell the story of Porto and its architecture. It also aims at helping building owners to be able to restore their beautiful azulejos tiles facades in the city.
At Banco de Materiais you’ll find many azulejo tiles, iron pieces and decoratives stones that used to be on the facades of Porto’s buildings, and hence visiting this place is a journey into the past.
If you love history and want to see more azulejo tiles in Porto, you’ll enjoy this place.
How to get there: take the subway to Aliados. Banco de Materiais is a 7 minutes walking distance.

Where are best places to buy azulejo tiles in Porto?

Before we jump into the topic of buying azulejo tiles in Porto, there’s something our readers should know. When shopping, always ask for the source of the azulejos. Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous salespeople that sell azulejos tiles that have been stolen from private property or even from monuments in the city.
The best option is to go for handmade azulejos tiles that have been painted by local artists. This way you can assure that your purchase is not lapidating the local patrimony.
These are our suggestions:

Prometeu Artesanato

Rua de Mouzinho da Silveira, 136
prometeu artesanato azulejo tile store porto

Prometeu Artesanato is one of the best places to buy azulejo tiles in Porto. It’s a store that took a traditional art and turned into something new and creative. Its azulejos tiles are made and painted in-house. They carry the old-school geometric tiles, the religious figures’ tiles and some funny tiles that would make a great gift – like a cat drinking wine!
Watch this video to see how azulejos tiles are made in Prometeu Artesanato.
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento station. Prometeu Artesanato is a 5 minutes walking distance.

Zinda Atelier

Rua Ferreira Borges, 63
zinda atelier tile store porto

Near the Stock Exchange Palace and Ferreira Borges Market, you’ll find a cute little ceramic store by artist Adosinda Pereira. Adosinda has a degree in Heritage Historical Sciences and she’s been working with ceramics since 1990.
In the store where she develops her work you can find some of the most unique azulejo tiles in Porto. Her technique with ceramic and azulejo tiles is something I have never seen before. So if you want to buy some azulejo tiles to remember your visit to Porto, Zinda Atelier is a great place to shop.
How to get there: take the subway to São Bento station. Zinda Atelier is a 7 minutes walking distance.


Rua de Santo Isídro, 181
bramica tile workshop

I think the best way to learn about azulejo tiles in Porto is to make some yourself! Brâmica has great workshops taught by people with over 20 years of experience. Not only will you be learning how to make azulejo tiles, but you will also learn about their history.
This is a great place if you want to make a special gift for someone or if you want to make your own souvenir. This will make a great couple’s activity and it will even be a fun activity for kids.
How to get there: take the subway to Marquês. Brâmica is a 9 minutes walking distance.

Azul Cobalto

Rua Miguel Bombarda, 285
azul cobalto tile store porto

Warning! Upon entering this store, you will not want to leave!
This creative design and craft store is full of ceramics and handmade items that will make a great gift.
They also have one of the most beautiful collections of azulejo tiles in Porto. Some of their tiles come wrapped with additional items like hand-made soap, and some have facts written on them which is a nice touch.
I know many people come to Centro Comercial Bombarda because they have some of the best restaurants in Porto for a low budget, so this is a nice excuse to stop by Azul Cobalto for an inspiring azulejo shopping experience.
How to get there: take the subway to Aliados. Azul Cobalto in Bombarda shopping center is a 13 minutes walking distance.

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The best places in Portugal to score a picture with beautiful tiles

Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

The 17th century monastery is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Lisbon and with it’s marble interiors and jaw-dropping azulejos, it’s no surprise. The tiles here depict historical events from the 12th century, which may seem a bit before this monastery’s time, but it was to honour an older monastery that one stood there.


The André Saraiva mural

Once you’re done in the Monastery of São Vicente de For a, head down the road toward the National Pantheon and you’ll see the André Saraiva mural. It’s a modern interpretation of the traditional tile art and instead of being in blues, yellows and whites, it’s a riot of colour. The mural wraps itself down one side of the city’s oldest flea market, Feira da Ladra, and has over 52,000 hand painted tiles in it.

National Azulejo Museum

Another off the beaten track jewel, the National Azulejo Museum is obviously one of the top places to see azulejos. Besides getting a good insight into the history of the Portuguese art, the building is a 16th century convent and has plenty of breathtaking tiles for you to see. Plus, tickets are only 5 euro!

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Looking for the best azulejos in Porto? Look no further. Here you’ll find 11 incredible displays of blue and white tiles (+ info on how to get there).

I don’t precisely know what is about Portugal that attracts me back over and over. Maybe it’s its people, open and relaxed; or maybe its old history and the culture that it’s a mix of American, African, and Asian influences. The food is certainly a plus (I love Portuguese dessert!), and last but not least, the architecture. More precisely, the mix of old and new, of minimalist and super colorful.

The first time I visited Porto, I immediately fell in love with its buildings covered with azulejos. Maybe you’re spending 2 or 3 days in Porto, or maybe it’s just a quick stop on a road trip through Portugal – no matter how long you’re in Porto, it’ll be easy to find a couple of azulejos examples to check out. Today I want to give you a little guide to help you find all my favorite spots to check out these beautiful Portuguese tiles in Porto.

An Introduction to Azulejos in Porto

Azulejos, in English glazed ceramic tiles, can be found all around the cities of Portugal and are one of the most popular cultural artifacts produced in Portugal. They are indeed known all over the world because they give such a distinctive look and feel to buildings and churches. But the Portuguese tile art is not just decorative, it also tells stories about Portugal and its past.

If you have been to Portugal, especially in the major cities like Lisbon and Porto, you might have noticed the eye-catching Portuguese ceramics on the walls of train stations, buildings, churches, and public murals.

Maybe you’ll have seen that most of these tiles depict navigators and ships. More recently, though, many tile designs have been made of other topics like animals and oriental designs.

Today, there are many tile factories and stores that sell the azulejos in Porto and other Portuguese cities. Since the Portugal tiles are pretty inexpensive and widely available, they are tempting buys if you want to own a piece of this Portugal’s historical art. It’s not by chance that Portugal azulejos are a favorite souvenir!

You can easily go on a DIY tour to check out some incredible buildings decorated with azulejos, and you can even try and paint your own tiles if you’re feeling creative!

Ready to get in touch with your creative site? TheArt of Azulejos Experience allows you to paint your own two tiles and bring them home (the perfect souvenir). I’ve done something similar in Barcelona and had a blast, and it’s a great option if you’re traveling with kids! BOOK IT HERE

These are the best places to check out if you are in search of the best azulejos in Porto, Portugal. 

Capela das Almas

The Capela das Almas, also known as the Chapel of Souls, is famous for being literally covered in blue and white tiles. Something interesting about this chapel is that the tile work depicts scenes from the lives of saints. While the architecture of the chapel is relatively simple, the fact that it’s covered with 15,947 tiles (can you imagine the amount of work?) is what makes it stand out.

This chapel was built in the 18th century and these Portuguese wall tiles were designed by potter Eduardo Leite, made in a factory in Lisbon, and placed in 1929. It’s no surprise that this is one of the most photographed buildings in Porto.

Entrance to this chapel is free. It’s in Rua de Santa Catarina in Porto, Portugal. To get here, the closest metro station is Bolhao. 

São Bento Train Station

The Sao Bento Train Station in Porto is the most beautiful train station in Portugal. First opened in 1916, the tile work began five years after the station was built. And although it might look ordinary from the outside, the real beauty lies within. It’s definitely a place you need to add to your Portugal itinerary, even more so since you’re looking for the best azulejo tiles in Porto!

The main hall features an impressive tile work that consists of 20,000 tiles telling the history of Portugal. You’ll find depicted here the Battle of Valdevez and the Conquest of Ceuta, and many other important events in history. A must see.

The Sao Bento Train Station is located in Praca de Almeida Garret. It’s located within the metro Line D. 

Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral)

The Porto Cathedral features a dark and gothic architecture, but the real beauty of the church lies in its cloister walls. In fact, it’s known as one of the best places in Porto where you can find the best azulejos. The blue and white tiles depict scenes from ‘The Metamorphosis’ along with the life of Mother Mary. 

The interior of this medieval, dark cathedral provides a beautiful contrast to the very bright blue and white tiles on the cloister walls. You’ll see how they also used the beautiful Portugese ceramics on the outside walls of the cathedral.

To get to Porto Cathedral, you can take a subway train to the Sao Bento Station. From there, the cathedral is only 5 minutes away. 

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso or Church of Saint Ildefonso is an 18th century church in Porto, Portugal, and personally is one of my favorites showcases of Porto tiles. It’s not surprising that the church is one of the buildings that form the “Porto historical center”,declareda UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 (another place on the same list is the Sao Bento Railway Station).

This church was built in 1739 and features a façade of azulejo tile work. Located in Praca de Batalha, this Baroque- style building will surely catch the eye of any passersby because of the elaborate tilework on its façade (so elaborate that they completed the tile work only in 1932!). 

This is a work of Jorge Colaco, who used 11,000 tiles used to cover the entire façade of the church (the same artist is also behind the tile work in Sao Bento station). The Portuguese ceramic tiles depict the life of St. Ildefonso, as well as the allegories from the Eucharist. 

To get to Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, take the subway train to Sao Bento Station. It’s only 7 minutes away from the station. 

Igreja do Carmo

Another popular place to spot the best Porto mosaic tiles is Igreja do Carmo, one of the best examples of azulejos in Portugal. This azulejos-covered church dates back to the late 18th century and one of the best examples of the rococo architectural style. In my opinion, this is probably the most beautiful church in Porto.

As it usually happened, the exterior of the church was completed in 1878 but the interior was completed over a century and a half prior. As for the tile work, it was completed in 1910 and it pays tribute to Nossa Senhora. 

To get to Igreja do Carmo, you should take the train and get off at Aliados. From the station, the church is approximately 8 minutes away. 

Casa da Musica

Casa da Musica,  a music hall in Porto that was finished in 2005, is the first one that was exclusively dedicated to music – for artistic training, creation, and public performances. You’ll find here not only contemporary style architecture but also beautiful azulejos art to admire.

The VIP hall, where the amazing azulejos are placed, is covered with hand-painted white and blue tiles. It’s a stunning contrast to the high modernism of the rest of the building. 

Casa da Musica is at Avenida da Boavista. 

Igreja dos Congregados

Igreja dos Congregados, also known as Igreja de Santo Antonio dos Congregados (the Church of St. Anthony’s Congregation), is another must-visit attraction if you want to see the best azulejos in Porto. Completed in 1680, this church went through many changes in history, especially as a hospital and military equipment storage during the siege in 1832 to 1835. 

Today, Igreja dos Congregados is visited by tourists for its extravagant tile work. The façade is elaborately decorated with blue and white tiles, and this tile work is so stunning that it just dominates the square.

It’s right across the Sao Bento Railway Station. Therefore, you can get off at this station when you want to see the beautiful azulejos on this church. 

Banco de Materiais

The Banco de Materiais, in English “Bank of Materials”, is one of the most historic places in Porto. This building was a concept proposed by the local government in 2010, and essentially the idea was to have a place to preserve and display the tiles designs. It’s a great spot for building owners to get inspiration to decorate their facades with the beautiful azulejos, and anyone can deposit or borrow tiles. 

This is the best showcase of azulejos tiles – here you’ll find everything from the more simple to very elaborate azulejo patterns. In addition to these gorgeous tiles, there are other decorative pieces such as iron and decorative stones.

To get to Banco de Materiais, you can get off at the Aliados train station. From the station, the Banco de Materiais is only 7 minutes away.


If you want to go beyond seeing the beautiful blue and white Portuguese tiles, Bramica is the best place to go. Here, you have the chance to learn how to make the azulejo tiles yourself. There are workshops held here regularly, and if you sign up for one they will provide all of the materials and equipment that you will need to create your own tiles.

Whether you want to take your tiles as souvenirs for home or you want to gift them to someone, Bramica definitely makes for an interesting experience.

Azul Cobalto

If you’re wondering where to buy Portuguese tiles in Porto, you need to head to Azul Cobalto. A warning though: it will be difficult to leave as you’ll be in awe of the amazing collection of traditional blue and white Portuguese tiles. You’ll definitely end up taking home some hand painted Portuguese tiles, guaranteed.

These blue and white tiles share their space in this store with other goods such as handmade soap. Since the Azul Cobalto is quite close to Centro Comercial Bombarada (one of the best shopping destinations in Porto), it’s the perfect excuse to stop by this store, too.

To get to Azul Cobalto, you must take the subway train to Aliados station. 

BONUS: Pinhao Train Station

Want to see even more azulejos? It’s time to look further than Porto then. If you’re taking a day trip to the Douro (and you totally should), you’ll probably pass by the Pinhao train station, which features some beautiful tile work. Super instagrammable!

And there you go! Hopefully this list will help you get azulejed out (which isn’t a real word but whatevs!) and find the best Porto azulejos. Let me know in the comments if you find other places worth inserting in this list. Happy travels!


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City Life, Culture & History


Portugal blue tiles

Elaborately-painted Portuguese tiles, called azulejos, fell out of favour in the early 20th Century. But Lisbon today is embracing the art in its murals, museums and metro stations.


The blue-and-white tiles that line the church of Lisbon’s Madre de Deus convent complex tell stories in engrossing detail: Moses and the Burning Bush, the life of Santa Clara, the works of St Francis of Assisi. The tiles, called azulejos, are not only compelling, they are also uniquely Portuguese – which is why, in 1971, the convent became the centrepiece of the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum dedicated to preserving tile art from around the country and across the centuries.

Elaborate art at the azulejo museum. (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)

Azulejos first came to Portugal in the 15th Century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula were still under Moorish rule. Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for “blue”), the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as “polished stone”.

“Many other countries have tile art, where it is used as decoration like a tapestry,” said museum director Maria Antónia Pinto de Matos. “But in Portugal, it became a part of the building. The decorative tiles are a construction material as well as decoration."

A traditionally tiled house in Lisbon. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Lisbon’s ubiquitous azulejo-clad buildings are not all centuries-old work, though. In fact, in the early 20th Century, azulejo art had fallen out of favour. “The cultural elite despised it and said it was for the poor people,” said Nuno Pereira, the head of international affairs for Lisbon’s metro system. But an azulejos revival started in the 1950s, when Lisbon’s first metro station designers wanted a low-maintenance, easy way to have the underground spaces feel less separate from the outside world.

Parque and Restauradores stations, the most impressive examples among the seven originally built stations, are covered in geometric-patterned tile, many of which are the work of the prolific Portuguese artist Maria Keil, whose husband Francisco Keil do Amaral was the stations’ architect. Her decorative flair now features in 19 of Lisbon’s stations.

If Keil’s work helped revive azulejo interest, then the 1998 World Exposition transformed the art itself. When Lisbon was awarded Expo ‘98, city authorities decided that a formerly derelict riverside site was the ideal place to house the international showcase – and that a new metro line was needed to connect the site to the city, providing several additional outlets for azulejo artists to show off. Out went Keil’s safe geometric designs; in came storytelling. At Alameda Station, Costa Pinheiro added images of navigators and ships to reflect Portugal’s seafaring history. At Olivais, Nuno Siqueira and Cecília de Sousa painted olive trees on the tiles, representing the grove that once stood in the location. And at Oriente, the exit station for the Expo site, artists from five continents were given their own space to create individual works with a linking maritime theme.

Ocean-themed art at Oriente Station. (Metropolitano de Lisboa)

Since then, tile art has been installed in numerous other metro stations. At Cais Do Sodre, giant Alice In Wonderland-esque rabbits cover the train tunnel. At Alto do Moinhos, goats butt heads, writers brandish quills and a donkey bucks.

Many of the newer works dotted around Lisbon and the rest of Portugal are collaborations with the Galeria Ratton, which opened in 1987. Located just west of the Bairro Alto district, the gallery’s frequently changing exhibitions showcase local and international tile artists, and it facilitates major public installations like those in new train stations across Portugal. “The main objective was to close the gap between contemporary art and traditional tile painting,” said gallery co-owner Tiago Monte Pegado. “It’s about discovering a new form of expression. We never take a drawing that already exists – it’s always new for the tiles.”

Helping major azulejo artists get together with organisations that want to commission works is part of what Monte Pegado calls “the democratisation of access to art”. Paula Rego’s scene of a phoenix rising from the flames graces the gardens of the 17th-Century Fronteira Palace, while Menez’s overlapping scenes of women dancing in circles brighten up the playground at Praça Marcos Portugal. At Praça do Comércio – the giant square that links Lisbon’s city centre to the waterfront – the entrance to the newly opened (and admittedly touristy) Museu da Cerveja features a dizzying joyful tile mural by Júlio Pomar. A rabbit tucks into a watermelon, a man plays a mandolin and all manner of other oddities merge into a surreal whole.

Menez's dancing women. (David Whitley)

A sign nearby says: “What has been painted on the wall is there to entertain – a juggling trick; a street performance. It’s as simple as that.”

It’s not quite a centuries-old depiction of Moses and the Burning Bush, but if azulejos are being commissioned for pure fun, then the traditional art form is in good health.

Exuberant azulejos at Oriente Station. (Metropolitano de Lisboa)

(Cultura RM/Philip Lee Harvey)

(Metropolitano de Lisboa)

(Museu Nacional do Azulejo)

(Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty)

(Metropolitano de Lisboa)

Ubiquitous azulejos. (Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty)

(Metropolitano de Lisboa)

(Metropolitano de Lisboa)

(Museu Nacional do Azulejo)

(Metropolitano de Lisboa)

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10 things you didn't know about the portuguese Azulejo tiles

When we speak about Portugal, a few things come to mind: Fado and our portuguese guitar, codfish and sardines and, of course, the tiles named “azulejos”. Intimately related to our culture, there’s beautiful pieces of every size and shape, scattered around the country.

Even though it’s an undeniable symbol of Portugal, a lot still remains unknown about this ancient art. Here’s a few curiosities about this craft art to add to your general knowledge.

1. The word azulejo comes from the arabic word “azzelij” that basically means “small polished stoned”, used by muslims to design mosaics. The meaning remains fairly the same as we consider an azulejo to be a ceramic piece, generally square shaped, where one of the sides is glazed.

2. The azulejos entered the lives of the portuguese in 1498, when King Manuel paid a visit to Seville in Spainwhen King Manuel I paid a visit to Seville and was delighted by the shiny tiles around the city. He decided to bring this glowy art to Portugal and used it to decorate the walls of his castle: the Sintra National Palace.

3. Do you know why tiles are usually white and blue? Ever since Europe started its trading relationship with Asia, that europeans were fascinated with the elegance and fine touch of Chinese porcelain. It was difficult to manufacture because it used an ingredient that didn’t exist in Europe at the time, becoming a luxury object of great rarity and a symbol of wealth for the locals. In the seventeenth century, in an attempt to copy it, the Dutch began making tiles in the same blue and white tones as Chinese porcelain. The tiles pleased the Portuguese so much that massive imports were ordered from the Netherlands to decorate the Portuguese buildings.

4. Worried about the huge amount of imports from abroad, the Portuguese gave rise to a remarkable movement in the history of azulejo tiles in Portugal, the “Ciclo dos Mestres” (the cycle of masters). They start to hire renowned painters to design works in this format and begin to manufacture on a large scale. It is at this time that tile painters finally gain the status of “artists” by creating original pieces and signing their works.

5. Tiles are mostly used today for aesthetic reasons, but initially this was not their primary purpose: their waterproof glazed surface helps protect the walls of the house from damp and low temperatures. They were therefore used in wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens for their low cost and durability.

6. Tiles are the oldest form of "comic books" in Portugal. Sometimes even with captions below, the churches used them as a way of telling stories about saints and describing biblical moments, as books were a privilege to which few had access.

8. Sant'Anna is the oldest tile factory in Portugal and it's still operating! Being able to withstand Lisbon's great earthquake in 1755, it has existed in the city since 1741 and still uses the handcrafted techniques of the old days. Today, more than 90% of its production is sent abroad.

8. After the great Lisbon earthquake, the city was left in ruins and was then “invaded” by tiles. In the reconstruction of the city, instead of ordering original art works, tiles with repetitive geometric patterns were used,, so that the work was as fast and cheap as possible. These tiles became known as “Pombalinos”, with a clear reference to Marquês de Pombal, the person mainly responsible for the reconstruction of the city.

9. Tiles have reinvented themselves over time and with each architectural style, so each tells a different story. How can we interpret them? For example, older Moorish-inspired tiles often have exaggerated weaving and complex geometric patterns, characterized by the typical Moorish horror vacui. If we look at a gothic-style tile, the animal and nature figures reign. During the Renaissance period, born in Florence, symmetries and proportions started being appreciated, and the designs were endowed with great delicacy. If we look at the Baroque period, the tiles began to be crafted in an increasingly theatrical and exuberant way, depicting scenes from the portuguese Discoveries period and daily life, allegories and biblical episodes.

10. Since they’re not unique from our region, tiles are used in many countries around the world, such as Spain, Italy, Turkey and Morocco. Still, Portugal is the World Tile Capital for a special reason: tiles have been used on our facades and buildings for over 500 years, without interruption. It has survived the test of time, remaining an important means of artistic expression to this day.


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A Brief History of Portugal's Beautiful Azulejo Tiles

Marta Ferreira  / © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / © Culture Trip

When someone mentions Portugal, a few things come to mind: Port wine, Lisbon, seafood, surfing, and … azulejos! Even visitors who aren’t familiar with the term may see images of these glazed, ceramic tiles in their mind’s eye. Deeply embedded in Portugal’s history and culture, there are countless wonderful examples of these beautiful tiles.

Azulejos date as far back as the 13th century, when the Moors invaded the land that now belongs to Spain and Portugal, but they secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th centuries. The word azulejo stems from Arabic roots, meaning ‘small polished stone’. Originally they were fairly simple structures cut into geometric shapes in neutral tones.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

It wasn’t until Portugal’s King Manuel I visited Seville and brought the idea back, that Portugal truly adopted this artwork into its culture. The tiles were used to cover up the large areas of blank wall that were common inside buildings during the Gothic period.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Antique azulejos were decorated in a simple color palate, dominated by blues and whites. It is believed that these colors were influenced by the Age of Discoveries (15th – 18th centuries) and considered fashionable at the time. The other colors that appeared were yellow (sometimes looking gold) and green.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

After their introduction by King Manuel I, simple geometric shapes were replaced by more ornate decoration. It was (and still is) typical for the Portuguese to tell stories about their history, religion, and culture through this decorative means; they soon became pieces of public artwork.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

While visiting a church or cathedral in Portugal, visitors should pay as much attention to the alters as the interior and exterior walls. Many are decorated in azulejos instead of fabric, depicting a style that started during the 16th century. Birds and leaves were frequently symbols used as decoration, possibly inspired by Asian fabrics.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

After the Earthquake of 1755 (which destroyed most of Lisbon), the capital saw a shift from Manueline architecture (a Portuguese-Gothic style) to Pombaline styles, also influencing the use of azulejos.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

During the last couple of centuries, the use of azulejos exploded. Today, it is common to see them decorating churches, monasteries, restaurants, bars, railway and subway stations, palaces, and regular homes. They are also used extensively in interior decoration.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Today, azulejos are a dominant feature in every Portuguese city and can be seen in the villages as well. In addition to public buildings and private homes, they are used as street signs, to decorate public benches, and along beach walls.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Some of the most famous sites known for their azulejo art include the Sao Bento Railway Station in Porto, the Buçaco Palace, and many stops in the Lisbon Metro.

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

Marta Ferreira / | © Culture Trip

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