Azulejos: The Art of Lisbon’s Tiles

Azulejos

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

Tile Museum

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.

Lisbon tiled building

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.

Pasteis de Belem

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.

Viuva Lamego Factory

Viuva Lamego Factory

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 tiled panels

Alfama

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.

Alfama azulejosAzulejos panel

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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Azulejos: The Art of Lisbon's Tiles

Stephanie

I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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12 Responses

  1. Shannon says:

    Such a beautiful and unique way to do art. I’d love to do something like this in my house! Thank you for the wonderful tour.

  2. Karen says:

    I fell in love with the tiles in Portugal! I really enjoyed this and hope to revisit Lisbon again.

  3. Marina says:

    Nice article, congrats! I’m planning to travel to Portugal anytime in summer 2017 to visit some friends and I will definitely write down your tips.
    I already knew about the famous tiles in Portugal, but I could never imagine they would even have their own museum or they would be that beautiful!

    Just by reading the title it brought me a couple of memories to my mind… First of all it reminded me about my last trip to Rio de Janeiro where I could visit the Escadaria Selarón, a whole street made by tales from this Chilean artist – Selarón. And second of all, to that popular Instagram account #Ihavesomethingwithfloors.. At the beginning I really thought it was your account! 🙂

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much Marina! Oh, you’ll love Portugal! And if tiles are already something you love, than you’ll fall in love with Lisbon!

  4. I love the tiles in Spain and it looks like Portugal could be even more amazing. It’s great that you will see artistic displays everywhere and that people are living with their beauty. The blues and whites are my favourites.

    • Stephanie says:

      Oh, the tiles in Portugal will definitely wow you! It’s incredible how they’re used in so many ways, from homes to the metro and covering buildings. I agree, there’s something classic about the blue and white ones!

  5. I’m totally with you here – on tiles being your favourite thing about Lisbon and Alfama being your favourite neighbourhood! I didn’t realise tiles sold at flea markets are sometimes stolen though – glad I didn’t purchase any! Great post.

  6. Lori Henry says:

    Great piece, Stephanie! I haven’t been to Lisbon yet, but this will be a great guide when I do get there.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much Lori! Lisbon is a fabulous city and you’ll love it when you make your way there.

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