Tiles Galore: Lisbon’s Azulejos

by Audrey on November 26, 2011 · 20 comments

I am fascinated by tiles.  If you were to go through photos of my travels, you’d soon see the pattern emerge. I take photos of floor tiles, bathroom tiles, the beautiful blue and yellow tiles that line the walls as you descend into Buenos Aires’ subterraneo, the colourful broken tiles that decorate the benches of Barcelona’s Parc Güell, the iconic black and white mosaics that make up Rio de Janeiro’s sidewalks…you get the idea.

The Tiles of Lisbon

Earlier this summer I got to spend a few days in Lisbon, and one of the first things I noticed was that Lisbon’s buildings are covered in tiles! That may just be my favourite thing about the city. Some exteriors match while others are a mishmash of ornate patterns and colour; but their purpose isn’t merely aesthetic. Tiles are used because they are a relatively inexpensive way of finishing off the facade, and they’re also a great cooling mechanism.

Needless to say, when I learned Lisbon had a museum dedicated to the azulejo; a blue and white tile that was introduced by the Moors, I simply had to visit! The Museu Nacional do Azulejo may not be the most popular tourist attraction; I only ran into a family with two sulking children and an older woman, but that does not make it any less fascinating! In my opinion anyway…

Entering the Museum

Inside the museum you can track the evolution of the azulejo from the 16th century, through the rococo period, to its contemporary style. And you can also get a peek at the people working behind the scenes to restore these tiles.

Inside the Museum

Learning a bit about the history of the azulejo and seeing the details up close helped me appreciate the work that went into creating the facades that adorn the churches, businesses and apartment buildings around the city.

Early Azulejos

So there you have it, I like tiles.

What subjects are you drawn to when you travel?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Zhu November 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Lovely! I remember seeing these patterns in Brazil too (the Portuguese influence?). Avenida Atlantic, along Copacabana, is paved with tiles.

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thatbackpacker November 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Yes! And each beach in Rio de Janeiro has a different tile pattern too! :D

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Jenna November 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Wow, these are beautiful, and it’s interesting to see these buildings covered in tiles! I haven’t been to Portugal, but we will get there one day soon… Seems like such a beautiful country.

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thatbackpacker November 29, 2011 at 9:23 pm

It really is a beautiful city! I couldn’t take my eyes off the buildings, there were just so many intricate patterns to take in. I hope you get to enjoy it soon!

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Gaby November 29, 2011 at 11:22 am

Absolutely breathtaking!

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica November 29, 2011 at 11:41 am

Never seen anything quite like that. Beautiful!

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eriksmithdotcom November 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I love Lisbon. So many other European capital get the publicity, but Lisbon is great in it’s own right!

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thatbackpacker November 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm

You’re right. I hadn’t heard that much about Lisbon before I got there, but the city really took me by surprise! I guess it’s one of Europe’s better kept secrets.

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Nomadic Samuel November 30, 2011 at 11:59 am

I love the attention to detail in this photo essay :)

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phillegitimate December 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I loved Lisbon’s tiles too! But never would have thought to write about them. You did a great job of bringing out one of the little (but important) details of the city..

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Colleen Brynn December 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Haha! I JUST saw your blog now, and I posted photos of my own of Lisbon’s tiles only a few days ago! What a coincidence!

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thatbackpacker December 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

Haha, I saw!! :D Looks like we’re both drawn to ceramics and crumbling architecture!

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kyh December 5, 2011 at 8:08 am

we have a little bit of portuguese culture here… in malacca. the traditional wooden malay houses in malacca have these floral tiles, which were influenced by the portuguese when they conquered here in 1511. :)

lisbon is a beautiful place… would love to visit that one day! :D

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thatbackpacker December 6, 2011 at 9:44 am

Sounds beautiful! It’s crazy to think that the Portuguese brought their influence and it took root half way around the world! :D I also remember seeing the Portuguese style of architecture when I was in Goa, India.

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ElizabethJ_Bird December 5, 2011 at 9:45 am

Great pictures. I have also always loved seeing the tiles when I travel. This kind of reminds me of Morocco, especially the blue tiles fountains in Fez.

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thatbackpacker December 6, 2011 at 9:46 am

I would love to visit Fez! Morocco appears to have such beautiful architecture! :D

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Amanda December 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm

So pretty!

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jade December 8, 2011 at 12:23 am

I love tiles too- and doors. I like to see the colors and shapes and envision them in my house (future house that is!)

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Amer @TendToTravel December 21, 2011 at 8:43 am

Yes, I love the tiles in Lisbon! It seems like they tiled everything from the facade to the pavements. This really made the city unique architecturally!

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Mark in Lisbon March 14, 2012 at 10:05 am

Tile art is reason enough to visit Lisbon! While you’ll find tile decoration in all Mediterranean cultures, it was in Portugal that it developed into such an extraordinary variety of uses and designs beyond the geometric patterns. Those interested in seeing the best examples in Lisbon should check out this top 10: http://www.lisbonlux.com/culture/azulejos.html

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