The History and Origins of Portuguese Tiles

The History and Origins of Portuguese Tiles

« The “azulejo” Portuguese translation for tile, it’s one of the strongest expressions of Portuguese culture and one of the most original contribution for the world culture and heritage made by artisans and artists.» (Paulo Henriques, Director of the Azulejo National Museum, at Lisbon, Portugal).

If there’s an expression of art that personifies Portugal, the typical art of azulejo is one of them. After five centuries, these “little” ceramic tiles are everywhere, from north to south, both in the interior and exterior of private and public walls.
It’s origin it’s from the south of Spain. During an official visit at the Seville region.

In the early of XVI th century, the Portuguese King D. Manuel I became an enthusiast admirer of this art not yet known in Portugal at the time. He then made an order of these tiles for the “Paço Real de Sintra”. After him, the nobles, the high members of the church and richest families also adopted this new form of art.


The azulejos began by being poly chromatic, until the early XVIII th century.
Then, colors and tastes changed because of the Chinese ceramic importation and tiles coming from Delft.

The magnificent mural compositions became monochromatic (mainly cobalt blue and white). It was the time for the great artists and the masters on the art of painting to become also great ceramists.


After the terrible earthquake of 1755, the polychrome colors came back.

At the XIX th century, azulejos started to be produced industrially specially at Lisboa and Porto, which induced to lower the producing costs. Little by little, walls from private and public houses, churches, train stations, subway stations, coffee shops, etc, started to be covered by the azulejos.

At the XXIst century, some factories still kept these tradition and export worldwide.

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