Portuguese Tiling | An Alluring Form of Art

Portugal is famous for many things, one of them being the use of tiles as a form of decoration and communication, adding to its vibrant and unique architectural and cultural heritage.

As you meander through the streets of Portuguese towns and cities you feel as if you are immersed in a jigsaw of pattern and colour. Beautiful tile configurations can be spotted on churches, houses, palace walls and in gardens. The tiles enhance the beauty of the buildings, but they also play an important role in narrating important events in Portuguese history. This is particularly the case in the many detailed murals that can be seen on churches and monasteries.

The word 'Azulejo' derived from the Arabic الزليج (al-zillīj): zellij means "polished stone" but when you go to Portugal you realise that there is a lot more to it. The azulejo, can be traced back in Portugal to the 13th century when the Moors formed the Arab Andalusian civilisation. Tiles were initially used because their waterproof glazed surface helped protect the walls in houses from damp and low temperatures. However, the real trend of tiling started in the 18th century when King Manuel visited Seville and was charmed by the decorative use of tiles in the city. He used tiles to decorate the exterior of his castle, the Sintra Palace It was then, that tiling became an art form and mode of expression.

If you would like to immerse yourself in the 'azulejo art' make sure you visit the National Tile Museum, the Metro and the Fronteira Palace in Lisbon, the Cathedral, Sao Bento Railway Station and Church of Saint Ildefons in Porto and the Buçaco Palace in Luso.

Also, if you have time, travel to the charming region of Alentejo where you could follow an itinerary of exhibitions that display the best azulejo tiles by Jorge Colaço, the artist responsible for the tile panels in the Palace Hotel of Bussaco (1907); São Bento railway station in Porto (1905–1916); façade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso in Porto (1932) and many others.