They first appeared in the more aristocratic houses, such as the Palácio de Queluz and the Palácio Fronteira in Lisbon, where they formed an authentic record of the courtly customs of the period. The façades of the Capela (chapel) das Almas and the church of Santo Ildefonso, in Porto, are remarkable for being completely covered with blue and white tiles, showing how the saints too went out into the street.
After the great earthquake of 1755, it was important to have them to protect houses. São Marçal put out fires, São Francisco de Bórgia prevented earthquakes, Santa Bárbara calmed storms and N. Srª da Conceição, patron saint of Portugal, protected against all evils. Seek them out in the historical districts, such as the Alfama in Lisbon.
Mass-produced, weather-resistant and easy to apply, azulejos were used to cover façades totally with patterns and colours.
The more innovative even used them to advertise what they sold inside their shops.
They are easy to find in any Portuguese city or town. If you travel by train, notice the azulejo-panelled stations, authentic art galleries that portray the local customs. Visit São Bento station in Porto, where there are twenty thousand azulejos that tell stories of the railways and famous episodes in Portuguese history.
The azulejo is such a versatile support that it is still used by more modern artists in public spaces. Maria Keil, in the route along the Lisbon aqueduct, and Júlio Resende, in the continuation of the D. Luís bridge in Porto, are two artists who have used them to bring fresh life to large spaces at city entrances.