Introduced to Portugal through the Moors and from the Persians, the art of Azulejo tiling has been adopted as its own throughout Portugal, for the last five centuries and in Lisbon it is a prominent feature. Lisbon apartment, churches, palaces and nearly every building type will display some form of the signature azulejos blue-white tiles, inside or out.
Azulejos is derived from an arabic word, meaning polished stone. There are undeniable influences in Azulejos from the Moors; with interlocking pattern and geometry in its design.
However, Azulejos tiles in Lisbon tell of the city’s character, from ancient days through to modern times, thanks to its amazing mish-mash of designs. Whereas the traditional Islam approach restricted the use of living animals in the pattern, using only diamond and floral shape, the Portuguese Azulejos tiles really tell a story about the people and their history.
Azulejos tiling is not only decorative; its practical substance maintains the temperature of the houses and apartments that it covers. However, when time and weathering had partially damaged the fine façades, owners of the building opted to fill the gap with a tile of different pattern or style. This has led to today’s remarkable patchwork face of Lisbon.
The most popular colouring for the tiles has always been blue and white with some yellow, but during the discovery eras, the colours became more exotic and adventurous. Blue tiles again became popular after centuries, until the great Lisbon earthquake in 1755, when the fashion returned to more vibrantly coloured tiles once more in the rebuild of the city centre.
Today, Lisbon azulejos tiles are one of the city’s icons of heritage. Used in tourism campaigns, advertising and logos, the art form has nevertheless stuck to its roots, with many workshops and factories still producing azulejos tiles for its own buildings and apartments. Azulejos really is one of Lisbon’s most treasured of possessions.
Azulejos Tiles: Today’s Remarkable Face of Lisbon