Portuguese Tiles: More Than a Decoration Motif ♦ Nowadays, Portuguese tiles, are much more than a decorative motif. Tiles’, or as we call them in Portuguese, ‘Azulejos’, originated from traditional and ancient art that has been made popular in both Portugal and Spain. In short, it involves a specific way of hand painting tin-glazed ceramic tile work in the most varied hues. Secrets From Portugal is thrilled to let you know all about this famous Portuguese wonder, keep reading.
♦ Discover All About Azulejos in Portugal & Subscribe to Our Newsletter ♦
The word “azulejo” comes from the Arabic word “al-zulaich” which means “polished stone”. The original idea of the ‘Azulejo’ was to imitate the Roman mosaics. Still, Persian influences can also be admired in many tiles. These can be easily identified by their interlocked curvilinear, geometric, or floral motifs. Back in the days, the Spanish city of ‘Seville’ became the major centre for the tile industry. These tiles were glazed in a single colour, cut into geometric shapes, and assembled to form geometric patterns. The Spanish techniques were introduced into the Portuguese culture later on, by King Manuel I, after his visit to Seville in 1503. That was also the time when tiles started to be applied everywhere – from walls to floors, as well as in several rooms such as the ‘Arabic Room’ located in the Sintra National Palace.
Nowadays, Portuguese tiles, are much more than a decorative motif. They are part of the country’s cultural identity and can be found pretty much everywhere. They are also known for illustrating famous historical and mythical scenes from Portugal’s past. When you are inside a Portuguese church or cathedral, you should always pay attention to the alters, as well as the interior and exterior walls. These are usually decorated with tiles instead of fabric, depicting a style that started during the 16th century. Antique azulejos were decorated in a simple colour palette, dominated by blues and whites. The usage of these colours takes us back to the ‘Age of Discoveries’, as these were a definite mark of that period. After the Earthquake of 1755 – which destroyed most of central Lisbon – the capital saw a shift from ‘Manueline’ architecture (Portuguese-Gothic) to the ‘Pombaline’ one; an architectural style which is heavily influenced by the usage of tiles.
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, as well as regular homes. In fact, this trend goes even further and tiles are now also being used in interior design.
São Bento Station, Porto
Even if you’re rushing to catch a train at São Bento Station, make sure to stop for a minute at the main hall. Here you can find gorgeous tile-work scenes by Jorge Colaço, which depict the history of transport as well as the development of modern Portuguese society.
Morada | Adress: Praça Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto
Luso Buçaco Palace Hotel, Luso
The hotel was designed by the renowned architect Luigi Manini who wanted to bring here the Manueline architecture style present in several Portuguese monuments such as the Belém Tower or the Jerónimos Monastery. The highlight here relies on the tiles, which depict scenes from Portuguese literature and lore, as well as battles from Portuguese history.
Morada | Address: Mata do Bussaco, 3050-261 Luso
Évora Loios Church, Évora
Located in Évora, Alentejo, Loios Church, also known as Saint John the Evangelist’s Church, is a national monument since 1910, that belonged to Loios Convent built in the 15th century. The church itself was built in 1484 by D. Rodrigo Afonso de Melo and features a Manueline style. Its interiors are very impressive because of the walls that are fully covered by wonderful blue tiles that tell seven episodes from S. Lourenço’s life, who was a very important Saint to Loios Congregation. These panels were signed by Master António de Oliveira Bernardes in 1711 and represent one of his greater masterpieces.
Morada | Address: Palácio Cadaval, 7000-845 Évora
Casa da Música
This may not be the most obvious place to find tiles, however, there is a room in Casa da Musica that needs to be seen by any tile art lover. Rem Koolhaas, the designer behind the contemporary building, created the VIP Room as an attempt to merge two cultures – the Dutch and the Portuguese. Prepare to be dazzled when you come inside. The style of the tile’s paintings resembles that of the sixteenth-century tiles in Portugal as well as the European Renaissance.
Address: Av. da Boavista 604-610, 4149-071 Porto
‘Ribeira Negra’ Panel
This 40-meter long panel by Júlio Resende is regarded as the best example of contemporary tile art in Porto. In 1987, the painting was developed in 40 ceramic pieces and can be found at the entrance of the Ribeira tunnel. Júlio Resende dedicated this work to the place where he was born – Ribeira do Porto. The panel is a representation of Ribeira’s population; their misery and grandeur.
MAddress: R. da Ribeira Negra 4000, Porto
Porto Cathedral, Porto
Within the dark and gothic cloisters of Porto’s cathedral, you can’t help but simply be amazed by the blue and white tiles that you can admire here. The artisan behind this beautiful masterpiece was, Valentim de Almeida, a painter who lived close to the cathedral. The tiles’ painted religious scenes are referent to ‘The Song of Solomon’ from the Old Testament. This artwork is not only beautiful to look at, but it is also an important indicator of the political and religious climate of the time.
Address: Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto
National Tile Museum, Lisbon
This museum is full of beautiful works from throughout the centuries so that you can really immerse yourself in the evolution of this unique craft. It’s also here that you can find the Church Mother of God, where you can see first hand the famous framed tiles and ornate decoration.
Address: R. Me. Deus 4, 1900-312 Lisboa
Chapel of the Souls, Porto
This chapel is completely covered in traditional blue and white tiles, designed by the renowned artisan Eduardo Leite. The tiles depict iconic scenes such as the death of both Saint Francis of Assisi and Santa Catarina. You don’t even need to actually get inside the chapel to view these scenes as they are located on the outer part of the building.
Address: Rua de Santa Catarina 428, 4000-068 Porto
Lisbon’s underground stations picked up the tiles tradition in 1959 when they decorated the station’s walls with tiles that featured drawings by the painter Maria Keil. This monumental application of tiles also included the work of other Portuguese artists such as – Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Júlio Pomar, Manuel Cargaleiro, Sá Nogueira and Eduardo Nery. This is how Lisbon’s underground promotes art and contributes to the improvement and humanization of the city of Lisbon.
Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira
This palace holds one of the largest tile collections in the country, featuring spectacular displays both inside and out. This palace was built in the 17th century, shortly after Portugal got its independence back from Spain. This historical context can be easily identified at the ‘Battle Room’, in which fantastic scenes from battles against Spain are depicted.
Sant’Anna is a Portuguese ceramic factory that produces exquisite handmade tiles and that sells them to the entire world. From the preparation of the clay to the glazing and painting – the methods used today in the factory are the same as in 1741 – when the fabric was founded. The tiles are all handmade, and their artistic quality is recognized worldwide through their high quality and unique paintings.
Address: Calçada Boa Hora 96, 1300-488, Lisboa
Viúva de Lamego
Now classified as a building of public interest, the Viúva de Lamego factory was built between 1849 and 1865 and was at the time, the pottery workshop of António Costa Lamego. A unique feature of the building is the facade which is entirely decorated with figurative tiles by the factory’s art director – Ferreira das Tabuletas. This was one of the first times tiles were used as a means of publicity. In the early days, the factory produced mostly utilitarian articles in red clay, tiles in white clay, and some faience. However, with the arrival of the twentieth century, tiles became the main product at Viúva Lamego. Nowadays Viúva Lamego is not only a tiles factory. There is also has a Viúva Lamego store where that you can visit either to admire or to buy beautiful tiles.
Fábrica | Factory: Morada | Address – Rua Thilo Krassman, 39 Zona Industrial da Abrunheira 2710-089, Sintra Morada | Address: Rua de S. Domingos à Lapa, 8, Lisboa
♦ Discover The Best About Portuguese Azulejos in Portugal & More Secrets from Portugal Here ♦
♦♦ Feel free to share your thoughts in this article and celebrate Portugal with us! For more trends and information follow and subscribe to Secrets from Portugal! Follow us on our social media: Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Linked In ♦♦