Program - Arts - Lisbon - Portugal
Azulejos: Secret of Lisbon's beauty

A Brief History of Portugal's Beautiful Azulejo Tiles

The word Azulejo stems from Arabic roots, meaning ‘small polished stone’. These beautiful tiles date as far back as the 13th century when the Moors invaded the land that now belongs to Spain and Portugal, but they secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th centuries when Portugal’s King Manuel I visited Seville.

Antique Azulejos were decorated in a simple color palette, dominated by blues and whites. It is believed that these colors were influenced by the Age of Discoveries (15th–18th centuries) and considered fashionable at the time. The other colors that appeared were yellow (sometimes looking gold) and green. After their introduction by King Manuel I, simple geometric shapes were replaced by more ornate decoration. It was (and still is) typical for the Portuguese to tell stories about their history, religion, and culture through this decorative means; they soon became pieces of public artwork.

During the last couple of centuries, the use of Azulejos exploded. Today, it is common to see them decorating churches, monasteries, restaurants, bars, railway and subway stations, palaces, and regular homes. They are also used extensively in interior decoration. In addition to public buildings and private homes, they are used as street signs, to decorate public benches, and along beach walls. Some of the most famous sites known for their Azulejo art include many stops in the Lisbon Metro.