Tiles Galore: Lisbon’s Azulejos

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?

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Zhu

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

  2. says: Jenna

    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.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      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!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      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.

  3. says: phillegitimate

    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..

  4. says: kyh

    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! 😀

    1. says: thatbackpacker

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

  5. says: ElizabethJ_Bird

    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.

  6. says: Amer @TendToTravel

    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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