The azulejo has always been used in an original way in Portugal. In no other European country has it become such a powerful form of artistic expression, a piece of art that is kept in that special place in the home and a favourite way of decorating interiors, façades and gardens.
In Lisbon it’s easy to find azulejos of any style or period. Start at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo for an introduction to their historical, technical and artistic evolution from the 15th century to the present day. Find out how the azulejo reflects Portugal’s relationship with other cultures.
Then just walk around the city - when you get home your photographs will show that the colours of Lisbon are a jumble of azulejos.
You’ll notice that, in the streets of Alfama, images of the popular saints appear on small panels placed at the entrances of the houses to provide protection for the district. See also how La Fontaine’s fables are represented in the panels on the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora.
As you walk through the Chiado or the Bairro Alto, the changing azulejo façades mark the progress of your journey. Discover the short stories recounted in azulejos, such as in the church of São Roque. Pore over the details, and discover the masonic symbols at the house of Ferreira das Tabuletas.
When you travel on the Metro you will be surprised to see an underground art gallery, with masterpieces of contemporary azulejo art by world-famous artists.
Take a trip out to Sintra, where you will be fascinated by a landscape classified as a World Heritage site. Be sure to go into the Palácio da Vila and discover a genuine shrine to azulejo art, a particular taste of our former kings over the centuries.
But don’t let the azulejos remain only in your memory. Take them home. You are sure to find a piece you like, whether classical or modern, in one of the hundred-year-old factories of Viúva Lamego or Sant’Anna.