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Charmed by Lisbon's tiled facade


I’ve just come back from Lisbon and as I wandered through the streets  I was captivated by the stunning azulejos that adorn the city's buildings. These ceramic tiles, known for their vibrant colours and intricate patterns, are an integral part of Lisbon's cultural and architectural identity. I just kept on gasping and being amazed at every street corner and felt like a child in a sweet shop. Tiles are a wonderful way to decorate walls and floors so I thought I should take you on this journey with me.


A Glimpse into History


The tradition of azulejos dates back to the 13th century when the Moors brought the technique to the Iberian Peninsula. The word "azulejo" comes from the Arabic word "al-zellige," meaning "polished stone." Initially, these tiles were predominantly monochromatic, featuring geometric patterns typical of Islamic art. Over time, the style evolved, incorporating more colours and elaborate designs influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque periods.


In the 16th century, King Manuel I of Portugal visited Seville and was enchanted by the tiles he saw there. Upon his return, he invited Spanish and Flemish artists to Lisbon, sparking a golden age for Portuguese azulejos. These tiles began to feature more intricate scenes, including religious motifs, mythological themes, and everyday life, transforming them into a form of storytelling.


Artistic Expression and Functionality


Azulejos are not just decorative; they also serve practical purposes. In a city like Lisbon, with its warm Mediterranean climate, tiles help regulate the temperature of buildings, keeping interiors cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Moreover, they protect the facades from humidity and wear, making them a durable and functional choice for construction.


The artistic expression found in Lisbon's tiles is diverse and dynamic. From the blue-and-white compositions that evoke a sense of tranquility to the vibrant polychromatic scenes that burst with energy, each tile tells a unique story. Walking through neighbourhoods like Alfama, Bairro Alto, or Mouraria, you'll encounter a mosaic of history and culture depicted in ceramic.


Modern Interpretations


While traditional azulejos remain cherished, contemporary artists and architects have also embraced this art form, blending old techniques with modern designs. This fusion is evident in public spaces, new buildings, and even in street art. Artists like Bordalo II use recycled materials to create tile-inspired artworks, reflecting on social and environmental issues while paying homage to Lisbon's tile heritage.


The Tile Museum: A Tribute to Azulejos


For those who wish to delve deeper into the history and artistry of Lisbon's tiles, the National Azulejo Museum is a must-visit. Housed in the Madre de Deus Convent, the museum showcases a vast collection of tiles from the 15th century to the present day. Visitors can marvel at the evolution of styles, techniques, and themes, gaining a deeper appreciation for this unique art form.


Sintra Palace: a must visit for tile lovers


The tiles and collection of the Sintra Palace, also known as the National Palace of Sintra, are a remarkable showcase of Portugal's rich azulejo tradition. Nestled in the picturesque town of Sintra, this historic palace boasts an exquisite array of tiles that span several centuries. The palace's interiors are adorned with vibrant geometric patterns, intricate Moorish designs, and detailed narrative scenes, reflecting the diverse artistic influences that have shaped Portuguese tile-making. Each room tells a unique story through its tiles, from the stunning Swan Room with its elegant swan motifs to the dazzling Magpie Room, where magpies and roses create a playful yet sophisticated ambiance. The Sintra Palace's collection not only highlights the aesthetic beauty of azulejos but also offers a glimpse into the historical and cultural evolution of this timeless art form.


Where not to buy tiles

It's crucial to avoid buying tiles from the Lisbon flea market due to the significant cultural, historical, and ethical implications. Many of the tiles sold in these markets are often sourced through illegal means, including the theft of azulejos from historic buildings and public spaces. This not only contributes to the degradation of Lisbon's architectural heritage but also undermines efforts to preserve the city's cultural identity. Furthermore, purchasing these tiles fuels a black market that exploits Portugal's artistic legacy for profit, often leading to the irreversible loss of priceless historical artifacts. There is an “azulejos police” specialised in keeping this wonderful heritage alive.



Lisbon's tiles are more than just decorative elements; they are a testament to the city's rich history, cultural diversity, and artistic ingenuity. It was wonderful to sit at a cafe and watch the world go buy with a tiled building as a backdrop. If you have been to Lisbon do share your experience with us.

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