Azulejos: The Art of Lisbon’s Tiles
Some cities draw you in with their rich history, while others entice you with their iconic sites. Lisbon’s beauty, for me, is in its magnificent tile work. Thousands of the city’s buildings are covered in stunning ceramic tiles, which are called azulejos. Forget about traditional painting on canvas. Lisbon is like an open-air art gallery with stunning tile work around every bend.
These decorative ceramic tiles are believed to have started in Persia and brought to Portugal by the Moors. But Portugal has perfected the art of painting on tile. Lisbon’s azulejos are found throughout the city. And this tile work can be found covering entire buildings. Or in panels. And on everything from homes to palaces and in churches, and even the metro.
7 Places to See Lisbon’s Azulejos
One of Lisbon’s best museums is the Tile Museum. The Tile Museum is within the Madre de deus Convent, from the 1500’s. This breath-taking convent is a sight in itself. The museum is home to five centuries history of Portugal’s beautiful ceramic tiles. One highlight is a tile panel piece representing Lisbon before the Great Earthquake of 1755. It’s 75 feet in length and uses 1300 tiles.
And if you’re travelling to Portugal solo check out this guide.
Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro Square (Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro)
Located in the Chiado district, this square is home to one of the most photographed of Lisbon’s tiled buildings. Dating back to 1863 it is covered in pale orange and yellow tiles portraying mythological images. These images represent Earth, Water, Science, Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry.
Pastéis de Belém
Any trip to Lisbon isn’t complete without a visit to Pastéis de Belém. This world famous bakery is known for their delicious custard tarts. But it’s also home to beautiful tile work. The shop, dating back to 1837, is covered in colourful patterned azulejos on its exterior. And there are also tiled panels within, many in classic blue and white.
Cardaes Convent (Convento dos Cardaes)
Another of Lisbon’s tiled buildings is the Cardaes Convent. Located in Barrio Alto, down an alley you’ll find this stunning convent. Built in the 17th century, Cardaes Convent is still inhabited by nuns. This convent is home to eleven astounding blue and white tiled panels, as well as beautiful baroque architecture.
Viúva Lamego Factory (Fábrica Viúva Lamego)
Once a factory that made ceramic tiles, the Viúva Lamego Factory is now a shop. But former factory is home to two stunning façades. The old factory’s façade is covered is covered in flamboyant tile work, with figures and flowers in full colour. While the shop front, is covered in classic blue and white tiles.
Fronteira Palace (Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira)
Located just outside the city centre, the Fronteira Palace was built in 1640. Fronteira Palace is home to beautiful gardens and amazing tile work which is thought to be some of Portugal’s finest. Go Lisbon even describes the Room of Battles, within the Palace, as ‘the Sistine Chapel of Tilework’.
Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood. It’s also my favourite neighbourhood. And it’s home to a wealth of tiled panels that date back to the 1700’s. These panels can be found along walls, on store fronts, on homes, and churches. They come in all shapes and sizes. And many are devotional in nature and are thought to protect the buildings they cover.
TIP: In the city of tiled buildings it’s easy to want to buy some of these beautiful tiles as souvenirs. But be careful where you purchase them. At flea markets the azulejos for sale usually have been taken off of old buildings, illegally. And often damaging the building in the process. Instead, visit Fábrica Sant’Anna, a ceramic factory, to take a guided tour and purchase tiles.
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