The best places to see azulejos in Portugal
One of the most characteristic and best things about Portugal are the azulejos. These tin-glazed ceramic tiles found on churches, palaces, shops, houses and stations make Portugal like one big open air museum. Just walking the street means getting access to unique art, amazing color palettes, impressive craftmanship and culture.
You will find the azulejos all through Portugal, but what are the places to find the most and best? You will find out right now!
First a little bit of background. Azulejos came to Portugal in the 15th century. In the previous centuries, big parts of the Iberian Peninsula had been under Moorish rule. The Moors brought their tradition of tilemaking in the region, especially in the south of Spain, where specialised Islamic artisans set up shop. In the 15th centrury the tiles reached Portugal, where a long tradition of producing ceramics was already existent.
It’s easy to think that the word ‘azulejo’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘azul’, which means blue. Many of the Portuguese tiles have blue designs after all. But the origin is actually the Arabic word ‘az-zulayi’, which means ‘small polished stone’.
Over the years the Portuguese azulejos have been under the influence of many different art movements and historical developments. For example the Age of Discoveries introduced symbols and figures from other cultures, where the rococo style from France gave the tiles new colors, like violet. Nowadays we see many Portuguese artists use azulejos in a very modern way, or refer to azulejos in other art forms, like street art.
The first place to see azulejos is of course Lisbon. The city is full of tiles, from all kinds of periods in time. If you don’t want to spend any money, just walk the streets and find beautiful façades. Make sure you go to Largo Intendente, Alfama and Chiado. Also go underground, to see modern azulejos in the metro stations. Portuguese artists Maria Keil worked 25 years on the walls of 19 metro stations. See the best of her work at the stations Parque, Restauradores, Intendente and Anjos.Façade of the Fábrica de Cerâmica da Viúva Lamego on Largo Intendente
Miradouro de Santa Luzia
If you don’t mind spending a little, you of course have to go to the Azulejo museum. This is where you see the famous 23 meters long tile panel ‘Gran Vista de Lisboa’. Another great place to see azulejos is the Palace of the Marquises de Fronteira.
The most photographed tiled building you see on social media must be in Porto. The big blue-white wall of the Igreja do Carmo is the decor for hundreds of new pictures every day. But that’s just the beginning for this city in the north of Portugal.Capela das Almas
Go see more at the São Bento train station, the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, the Sé of Porto, the Igreja do Carmo, the Capela das Almas and on many, many houses. A modern example of azulejos in Porto is the 40 meters long Ribeira Negra Panel at the Ribeira tunnel entrance. If you have time, also visit neighbouring coastal town Matosinhos for more amazing tiled façades.
Another great city to see azulejos is Aveiro. Although the city is famous for its Art Nouveau, there’s a lot to explore on the subject of tiles as well. The best example is the beautiful train station, covered in blue and white tiles. Also walk through the Avenida Combatentes da Grande Guerra, see the Igreja da Misericórdia, the Museum of Aveiro and have tea at the Casa de Chá Arte Nova. The modern example in Aveiro is a long tiled panel on the Rua Belém do Pará.
Aveiro train station
Rua João Mendonça
Caldas de Rainha
The ceramic capital of the country can’t be missing in this list. Portugal’s most famous ceramic artist is called Bordalo Pinheiro. He started the Fábrica de Faianças here in 1884, also producing azulejos that can be found throughout the city. For example on the façade of the bakery Padaria Teixeira e Irmãs, on Rua das Montras 34, the train station and the factory itself.
A highlight is the Museu da Cerâmica where you will find amazing azulejo panels next to other forms of ceramic arts. Make another stop at the Museo do Hospital e das Caldas and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pópulo for traditional azulejos. They are both close to the Jardim da Agua, an example of modern use of tiles.Museu do Hospital e das Caldas
Jardim da Agua
Staying in the Algarve? Then head to Silves to see the prettiest Portuguese tiles. As this was a Moorish capital once, it should be the place to go. The pink tiles on a big building on the Praça do Municípo are stunning, just as the blue and white tiles in café DaRosa on the same square. The azulejo panel of an orange tree close to the Cathedral, couldn’t be more typical for the region.
Closer to the beach wander through villages like Ferragudo or Alvor to still your need for pretty tiles. The cities of Faro, Olhão and Tavira are good choices on the east side of the Algarve.
Praça do Municípo, Silves
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