The azulejos carry an image and symbolic charge in Portugal. They are anchored in the idea and the imagination of a heritage, a memory and a national cultural identity, which they in turn nourish.
As the Italians love to decorate their walls with frescoes, the Portuguese cover their surfaces with tiles. Intricate and surprisingly beautiful, the traditional ceramic tiles often represent illuminating scenes about Portuguese life.
The craft was introduced by the Moors in the 8th century and its popularity grew until Portugal became the main producer of tiles in Europe.
The idea of cladding the exterior facade of the houses with tiles arose from the need to have a coating that could be resistant to the natural wear and tear caused by the passage of time and climate. But the ingenuity of the Portuguese ended up transforming a simple coating into an art form.
These are some of the best places to see the azulejos in Portugal:
1. Lisbon, Palácio Fronteira
The Palace Fronteira, located in São Domingos de Benfica, Lisbon, was built between 1671 and 1672, as a hunting pavilion for João Mascarenhas, 1st Marquis of Fronteira. The palace and garden have beautiful tiles whose themes range from battles to macacaria. Although the palace is still inhabited, some of the rooms such as the library and the garden can be visited.
2. Lisbon, Viúva Lamego Azulejos Factory
Front part of the building used as a shop lately (recently closed because of the Covid but will soon reopen)
The Fábrica de Cerâmica da Viúva Lamego has been creating unique pieces since 1849 using artisanal methods that beautify the world. Initially Viúva Lamego, whose manufacturing facilities were located in the building where its store is located today in Largo do Intendente in Lisbon. In the thirties, the production was transferred to Palma de Baixo, where it remained until 1992, when it moved to Abrunheira - Sintra.
Frontal view of the building in Almirante Reis. Viúva Lamego was founded in 1849.
3. Lisbon, Casa dell’Arte Club House
It dates from 1860 and is located in Santa Clara, Alfama. Now a club house you can rent when in Lisbon.
4. Lisbon, Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (Chiado)
It dates from 1869 and is lined with yellow and orange tiles, which depict mythological images representing Earth, Water, Science, Agriculture, Commerce and Industry. At the top is a star with the eye of Providence.
5. Oporto, São Bento train station
The station has established itself as one of the main monuments in the city, being especially famous for its tile panels. The French-influenced building is the work of the Porto architect José Marques da Silva. The station entered service, provisionally, on 8 November 1896. The station's main atrium is covered in historic-themed tiles. Covering an area of about 551 m², they mainly represent scenes set in the north of the country, portraying, among other aspects, the Arcos de Valdevez Tournament (panel Batalha de Arcos de Valdevez), the presentation of Egas Moniz with his children to King Afonso VII of León and Castile, in the 12th century, the entry of D. João I and D. Filipa de Lencastre into Porto (panel Entry of João I in Porto), in 1387, the Conquest of Ceuta, in 1415, and traditional country life (Rural Views and Scenes panels); a colored frieze (History of Transport) is dedicated to the evolution of transport in Portugal, concluding with the inauguration of the railways. They were produced at the Fábrica de Sacavém and installed between 1905 and 1906 by the artist Jorge Colaço
6. Oporto, Capela das Almas
Capela das Almas or Capela de Santa Catarina: the construction of the building that exists today dates back to the end of the 18th century. The chapel's cladding is made up of 15,947 tiles covering about 360 square meters of wall.
The tiles that cover the chapel were designed by Eduardo Leite and were made by the Fábrica de Cerâmica Viúva Lamego. They date from 1929 and represent the life of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine, who are venerated in the chapel.
7. Ovar, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Amparo
The patronage of the church belonged to private individuals until 1150. In the 20th century, between 1923 and 1958, conservation works were carried out. In 1942, was made the placement of the tile panel depicting Senhora do Amparo, signed by Jorge Colaço's studio and executed by Fábrica Lusitânia, in Lisbon.
8. Pinhão, train station
The station is fully decorated with tiles, which depict landscapes and traditional activities of the region, especially the cultivation of vines. This theme was directly related to the station, which established itself as one of the main warehouses for the transport of wine. The tiles were produced by Fábrica Aleluia de Aveiro.
9. Aveiro, old train station
The old building has a facade fully decorated with polychrome tiles, in blue and yellow tones, which represent various railway, natural and cultural scenes and traditional activities. The building consists of three sections: a central part, with three floors, which includes three wide doors at ground level, and two symmetrical sides, with two floors, containing a door and two shutters of rectangular section. It was built in the traditional Portuguese style, assuming itself as an example, at a regional level, of the style called Casa Portuguesa.
10. Vilar Formoso, train station
The station buildings are decorated with tile panels, supplied by Fábrica de Cerâmica da Viúva Lamego.
These examples are of course not exhaustive given the enormous heritage of the country.
If you wish, you can also read the following books
- Azulejos de Portugal by Rioletta Sabo, Jorge Nuno Falcato, Nicolas Lemonnier, João Castel-Branco Pereira published in 2019.
- Azulejos de Lisboa by Luis Filipe Carvalho Ribeiro.
- The Art of Azulejo in Portugal: Portugese Glazed Tiles by José Meco
Sources: Turismo de Portugal, Wikipedia