Portuguese tiles (in portuguese, Azulejos) today are much more than simple coverings or decorative panels, they represent an enormous cultural and artistic legacy with many years of history. Since the 15th and 16th centuries, these beautiful ceramic pieces have been an integral part of buildings, palaces, churches, and train stations, standing out as a magnificent expression of art and culture of Portuguese heritage.
The Origin and Evolution of Portuguese Tiles
Let’s start by mentioning the difference between tiles and mosaics. Mosaics are for covering the floor, while tiles have more decorative purposes for covering walls.
The word Azulejo has Arabic origins and derives from the word “al-zulaich” which means polished stone.
The history of tiles begins with the Egyptian culture and arrived in Portugal at the end of the 14th century, influenced by Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula and in particular in the country. The first tile works began to display geometric patterns, showing a strong influence from the kingdoms of North Africa.
However, it was during the reign of D. Manuel I, therefore already in the 16th century, that tiles began to gain prominence, being used to decorate palaces and churches. Over the centuries, the tile technique evolved, incorporating different styles and themes, from geometric patterns to historical and religious scenes.
Unique Technique and Styles
The manufacturing process of Portuguese tiles is a centuries-old and very meticulous art. The ceramics are shaped and painted by hand, before being subjected to high temperatures in kilns. This fire technique gives the pieces exceptional durability, maintaining their beauty and vibrant colours over the centuries.
Portuguese tiles are recognized for their distinctive styles. The “mudéjar” tile or Hispano-Moorish tile, with Arabic influence, features complex geometric patterns and vibrant colours. Meanwhile, the "Renaissance tile" depicts historical and mythological scenes in rich detail. In the Baroque period, tiles also began to represent religious themes, reflecting the devotion of the time.
Some examples of frequently visited Monuments
The Portuguese tile heritage is vast and is spread across the entire national territory, from Minho to the Algarve. Below we highlight some examples of monuments highly appreciated for their Tiles:
- Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) in Lisboa
- Palácio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace of Sintra)
- Capela de São Roque (Chapel of São Roque) in Lisboa
- Palácio dos Condes de Mesquitela in Carnide
- Palácio Nacional de Queluz (National Palace of Queluz) in Queluz
- Quinta dos Azulejos in Lumiar
- Palácio do Marquês de Pombal (Palace of the Marquis of Pombal) in Oeiras
- Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora (Monastery of São Vicente de Fora) in Lisboa
- Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral)
- Biblioteca Municipal do Porto (Porto Municipal Library)
- Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Church) in Porto
- Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls) in Porto
- Estação de Comboios de São Bento (São Bento Train Station) in Porto
- Igreja de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Santo Ildefonso) in Porto
- Estação de Comboios de Aveiro (Aveiro Train Station)
- Igreja Matriz de Válega (Válega Mother Church) (in Ovar)
- Igreja Matriz de Cortegaça (Mother Church of Cortegaça) (in Ovar)
The industrialization of Tiles
In the second half of the 19th century, several factories dedicated to the production of tiles appeared, the most famous being the Fábrica Viúva Lamego in Lisbon, which still exists and works, the Fábrica de Cerâmica de Jerónimo Pereira Campos in Aveiro, the Fábrica de Santo António do Vale da Piedade, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the Massarelos Factory, also in V.N. de Gaia, the Devesas Ceramic Factory, still in V.N. de Gaia and the Fábrica Cerâmica do Carvalhinho, in Porto.
Tiles in the 20th century
Already in the 20th century, several artists dedicated themselves to tiles and some became famous for their works, the best known and most prominent being the artists Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Jorge Barradas, Júlio Resende, Júlio Pomar and Eduardo Nery.
Preservation and Cultural Impact
The preservation of Portuguese tiles has become a cultural priority. Many efforts have been directed towards restoring and conserving these historic pieces, ensuring their appreciation for future generations. Organizations and museums are dedicated to promoting the importance of these tiles as a unique cultural heritage of Portugal, with particular emphasis on the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), created in 1980 and located on Rua Madre de Deus in Lisboa, the museum showcases the history of Tile in Portugal and receives numerous national and foreign visitors.
In addition to their historical importance, tiles today play a very important role in Portuguese tourism. Visitors from all over the world are amazed by the beauty and uniqueness of these works of art, contributing to the development of local and national culture and economy.
Portuguese tiles are much more than simple decorative elements; They are living testaments to the country's rich history and artistic excellence. His unique technique, variety of styles and cultural impact continue to delight and inspire people around the world.
By visiting and appreciating these pieces we are helping to preserve them and keep alive the cultural heritage of Portugal and in particular the artistic mastery of Portuguese tiles that spans generations.