Azulejos du Portugal

Discover the history of the Portuguese Azulejos.

When you travel through Portugal, you may see public buildings, churches, monuments and even buildings or houses covered with tiles. Over time, these tiles named Azujelos have become one of Portugal's most popular emblems.

★ The first earthenware tiles appear in Mesopotamia.

Céramique murale portugalThe first known glazed tiles (2600 BC) were found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Then, they disappeared for a long time before the manufacturing technique was discovered in the 9th century and spread throughout the Arab world from Constantinople to Spain.

From the 15th century onwards, the whole of Europe, from Spain to Holland, Italy and France, used these earthenware tiles to decorate the most beautiful buildings. - Illustration: Ishtar Palace of Babylon

Azulejos I Portuguese tiles

★ The first Portuguese Azulejos were imported from Spain and Holland

At the beginning of the 16th century, King Manuel I imported the first Azulejos from Spain to cover the walls of the Palace that he had rebuilt in Sintra.

Igreja do Convento da Madre de Deus Lisbonne

These are the first Azulejos found in Portugal, but they were made in Spain. Some time later, at the end of the 17th century, the Dutch reproduced the Chinese faience and focussed on tiles of earthenware with predominant blue and white. The Portuguese then commissioned the Azulejos from the Dutch to decorate their palaces and churches. In Lisbon, for example, in the Madre de Deus Convent (Igreja do Convento da Madre de Deus), can be watched a beautiful scene made in Azulejos, painted in Holland by Jan van Oort and set up in 1698 - Illustration: Madre de Deus Convent in Lisbon


★ The Portuguese become the masters of the Azulejos art


 At the end of the 18th century, after the Lisbon earthquake (1755), the Portuguese decided to make use of the Azulejos technique to rebuild 

Palais National de Sintra Azulejos

the facades of their capital. This choice is due to the low cost of manufacturing ceramic tiles and their capacity to protect buildings from heat and humidity. The art of the Azulejos was at its apogee, the mastery of the Azulejos painters was such that they signed their creations.- Illustration: Viuva Lamego factory, Largo do factory intendente 

★ The first Azulejos at the National Palace of Sintra

Palais National de Sintra AzulejosResidence of the Moorish Governor under Arab rule in the 10th century, the Sintra National Palace was then inhabited by the Portuguese Kings for nearly eight centuries. The walls of the Palace were very early covered with Azulejos, most of which disappeared. It was King Manuel I who had the Azulejos imported from Seville at the beginning of the 16th century, covering a large part of the walls of the Palace. The famous Coats of Arms Hall is decorated with Azulejos panels dating from the 18th century.

 In Faro, Azulejos with unique patterns

Gare Sao Bento Porto AzulejosThe São Bento station, in the centre of Porto, is recent and was commissioned in 1896. It owes its name to the former convent of "São Bento de Avé Maria" destroyed to allow the construction of the station. The walls of the waiting hall are covered with Azulejos representing historical scenes from Portugal and  Portuguese popular life. 

★ 16,000 Azulejos on a chapel in Porto.

Capela das Almas AzulejosThe Capela das Almas is located in the heart of Porto. Built at the end of the 18th century, its external walls were covered with Azulejos in 1929 only. These Azulejos, painted by Eduardo Leite, were crafted by the Viúva Lamego ceramic factory in Lisbon. With 15,947 tiles covering 360m2, they retrace the history of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine. 

★ The National Museum of the Azulejos in Lisbon

Musée National de AzulejosIf you are interested in the history of the Azulejos, then a visit to the National Museum of Azulejos is essential. This museum traces the history of Portuguese clay tiles from the 16th century to the present day. The permanent exhibition will allow you to admire many Azulejos from different periods and thus understand the different manufacturing techniques and their evolutions

 The azulejos, an art still alive in Portugal.

Even today, Azulejos are still used in decoration in their original form indeed, but they are more and more crafted with contemporary designs. They are present throughout Portugal but Lisbon metro stations and recent and very modern buildings such as Casa da Música in Porto are good examples of their decorative function.

Casa da Musica Porto


★  And tomorrow?

Contemporary artists, craftsmen, continue to work with azulejos and invite themselves into street art, design, jewellery and kitchens.

Azulejos I Portuguese tiles

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