Portuguese architecture is inseparable from the astounding Portuguese tiles. Almost every building in Portugal is decorated with these charismatic ´azulejos´, many of which chronicle major parts of Portuguese history.
A slice of history
Azulejos were first brought to Portugal in the 15th century, during the Moorish rule. The word comes from Arabic, ´az-zulayj´ roughly translating as “polished stone”.
In 1498 King Manuel went to visit Seville and was so enchanted by the colorful tiles he saw in the city that he decided to bring this tradition home, choosing to decorate the walls of his castle in Sintra with these hypnotic patterns.
Photo credits: withoutbaggage.com
Stories in blue and white
Most of these tiles are white and blue, colors that were very popular during the Age of Discovery (~15th century until ~ the 18th century). The blue color was considered to be a symbol of power and wealth. Europe at the time was fascinated by Chinese porcelain and since this painted porcelain contained an ingredient that was not available in Europe at that time, blue ceramics were extremely rare and only available to the wealthy.
In the 17th century the Dutch started copying Chinese blue and white designs, and the Portuguese became inspired by these, ordering big shipments of tiles for decorating Portuguese buildings.
Photo credits: Marta Ferreira, theculturetrip.com
Falling out of favour & regaining popularity
The early 20th century brought along a decrease in popularity for the azulejos who were deemed outdated and associated with the lower classes by the cultural elite.
This was temporary, however, because when the Lisbon metro started being built in the 1950s, the metro stations started being decorated with these magnetic tiles. The reaction was incredibly positive and it contributed to an explosive azulejo revival.
Photo credits: Eduardo Nery, Campo Grande Station, Lisbon Metro
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Established in 1971, this Lisbon-based museum is dedicated to preserving traditional tilework from Portugal, the Portuguese Empire and other Iberophone cultures. Housed in a former convent, the museum´s collection is one of the largest of ceramics in the world.
Photo credits: weheartlisbon.com
Street art reinvention
Artists have reinvented the tiles in many ways, updating them to the modern times and techniques. One of the areas that traditional azulejos have blended into is street art.
You´ve guessed it: December is the month we´ve dedicated to wall tiles. December is for celebration, and celebrate we will. These beautiful patterns are sure to make your day brighter with their eye-candy designs. Check out our showroom for more inspiration!
Psst: Here are some beautiful tiles from our Lux 21 collection: