Al-zuleique is the Arabic word from which the Portuguese azulejo originated. It meant the ‘small smooth, polished stone’ used by the Muslims in the Middle Ages.
The Portuguese kings liked the way they used azulejos to decorate floors and walls, so they began to be produced in Portugal in the late 15th century. They became an important feature in architecture over the centuries, and can be said to have been adopted in Portugal as in no other European country.
In the 18th century, the azulejo "invaded" churches and convents, palaces and houses, gardens, fountains and stairways. With geometric patterns, telling stories of the lives of saints or with profane themes such as La Fontaine’s fables, sometimes with captions like an old version of the comic strip, the azulejo became one of the main Portuguese decorative features.
As you travel around the country you will find an authentic living museum of azulejos, but the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon gives you a unique chance to discover their complete history and technical and artistic evolution, from the early days to contemporary production.
Even in the 21st century, the azulejo is still used by avantgarde artists, leaving its mark on public art. It is essential to visit the stations of the Lisbon Metro to see works by world-famous Portuguese artists such as Vieira da Silva and Júlio Pomar. Tour the world of the azulejo and experience the fascination of this art.