22 September. 2020


Azulejo from the 1500’s

Julie and I were both floored by the beautiful ceramic tiles we saw in Lisbon. We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon; so after we checked into our hotel we went for a walk. About 50 feet from the hotel we saw the first building that was covered with these tiles. We thought this was a really neat way to spruce up a building, but didn’t think much more. Then we noticed that many of the buildings had these elaborate tiles covering all or part of the wall. This is when we did a little research.

Azulejos were introduced into Portugal sometime in the 12th or 13th century. They were brought into the country when the Moors invaded Spain and Portugal. The word means small polished stone. Originally the Azulejos were simple tiles that had stones which were imbedded into simple geometric shapes. In the 1300’s Portugal’s king brought back some samples of this art form from a trip to Spain, and things progressed quickly from there. The oldest azulejos were a very simple color palate. Usually this was blue and white, the 2nd most common colors (for my Green Bay friends) were green and gold. The simple geometric shapes soon led to very ornate decorations, it was very typical for these to tell stories about history, or religion.

The city of Lisbon from 1755 before the earthquake

One interesting thing we learned was the fashion of decorating the outside of your home with azulejos was actually begun in a Portugese colony… Brazil. The reason why it had not caught on, was the Portugese had not developed a way to mass produce the tiles, so it was only the very wealthy that could afford to use them for decoration. Sometime around the mid 1800’s some Brazilian entrepreneurs brought back the method of industrial production, and then the tiles began to decorate the facades of many houses and buildings.

Azulejos is an art form that reaches everywhere in the country. Somehow, I think I forgot to take pictures of this, but even many of the street signs use this art form. Most homes do not utilize tiles everywhere, but a good many of them will have one small section decorated this way. It will either be a picture like depicted below, or a small set of the geographic tiles.

Azuelos decoration on the outside of a home in Sintra

I hope you like the pictures below. I realize the pictures do not them justice. It is easy to get lost in the symmetry of the geometric designs. I enjoyed seeing the geometric tiles, but I was truly most impressed with the hand painted tiles.

I will have one more post this week, with the rest of our Portugal pictures. See you soon.

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