Azulejos Tiling in Portugal
Some of the azulejos (tiles) adorning Porto’s main rail station, Sao Bento. Photo by IngolfBLN.
What are Azulejos?
Azulejo is a popular form of Portuguese ceramic tile work seen in, on and around many religious institutions, palaces and public buildings around the country, but also found in Spain and colonies of the two countries.
Azulejos were introduced by the Moors over 500 years ago, hence the name, derived from the Arabic word for polished stone – zellige.
Often plain they are a feature of old buildings and rarely make an appearance on dull new constructions, although Lisbon has some striking recently tiled murals.
Invented in the 16th century, blue on white was the first and still is the most common colour scheme for picture panels, though multicoloured works are to be found. Much later when Art Nouveau and Art Deco took Europe by storm azulejos became more dynamic and bizarre.
Some great azulejos can be seen around Porto, especially on Igreja (church) do Carmo and on houses beside the river in the Ribeiro district. Évora too has various superb church examples – Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista and Misercordia, while Lisbon has a huge offering on the (interior) walls of the monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora, including a set of full-sized fables.
Igreja de Carmo in Porto.
Palacio Nacional de Sintra. Photo by Ricardo Tulio Gandelman.