Azulejos – from the Arabic word "azzelij", meaning “small polished stone” – are generally square-shaped, with one side glazed. These beautiful tiles were first introduced and widely used in Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) during the Islamic al-Andalus from the 8th to 15th centuries. In Portugal, tiles from the Arab presence (8th-13th century) did not survive, unlike the Seville-based tile industry, which maintained this heritage and tradition.
When the rich and powerful Portuguese King Manuel I visit Spain, in the late 15th century, he became delighted by Seville-Moorish tiles, decided to bring this art to Portugal, and used them to decorate his Sintra Royal (today National) Palace. From that moment onward, tile production will be prolifically used in interiors and external facades of numerous buildings of a palatial, religious, residential, and even later, industrial nature.
The Discoveries Age period (16th-17th century) and the trade with Eastern Asia, particularly with China, will introduce in Europe the Blue and White porcelain style, soon copied and improved by Dutch and Portuguese artists. The Renaissance and Baroque period (17th-18th century) will give rise to a remarkable movement, with the “Cycle of the Masters”, combining the functional, low cost, and easy maintenance tile characteristics with rich, diverse, and exuberant scenic programs, that will establish Portugal as one of the nations with the highest number and quality of architectural projects using tiles as a primordial element. The earthquake of Lisbon (1755) and the subsequent city reconstruction, the European modern influences, the beginning of industrialization, or even the 20th-century Fascist ideology, will maintain tiles at the forefront of artistic production. Today, Portuguese contemporary architecture continues to use tiles as part of a permanent and uninterrupted cultural, aesthetic, and functional tradition for more than 500 years.
Led by an expert on Architecture and Art History, Tiago Miranda Neiva, this interactive seminar will present some of the best Portuguese examples of tile architectonic projects from the 16th to the 21st century, reflecting distinct origins, techniques, typologies, and historical periods. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a better knowledge of the richness, quality, and variety of Portuguese Tiles and Architecture.
For travelers eager to learn more about Portuguese history and culture, we invite you to explore our additional conversations here.