Walking through Lisbon’s five centuries of tiles

Tile MuseumA few days ago I joined a tour of the Tile (Azulejos) Museum with a guide from Walks On The Art Side. We went through five centuries of tilemaking, from the early techniques, to the evolution in designs.
The very enthusiastic guide shared her passion for the art form, placing the different styles in a historical perspective and explaining the international influences in tile decoration, from the Moorish origins, to the Spanish and Dutch mastery, to Portugal’s variety of imaginative uses. 

This is a very unique museum, since there is no other in the world completely dedicated to this ancient art form. Lisbon is a very fitting place for it, since there probably is no other city with so much tile decoration, that covers everything from church interiors, to simple house façades, to street signs.

Tile Museum The space chosen for this tile gallery was a former convent, which itself would be worth a visit. The Madre de Deus Convent is also an extraordinary example of another art greatly developed and found extensively in Portugal, the baroque gilt decoration. The chapel of Saint Anthony is completely covered from ceiling to floor with gilt carvings, with their gold shining around the blue and white tile panels on the walls.

On the second floor is a 23m-long (75ft) 18th century panel showing Lisbon as it was before the devastating 1755 earthquake and tsunami. This is an outstanding work of art, as the artist observed the city from the Tagus River and later assembled his views on the tiles. Be sure to look for the monuments that are still standing in the city, and imagine it with the ones that are no longer part of its skyline.

Tile Museum A Walks On The Art Side tour is recommended for anyone interested in the world of ceramic tiles, in the history of Lisbon, or simply those who enjoy art. The guide brings those tile panels to life, as they no longer simply look like tile compositions, but turn into historic documents.

For more about the history of tilemaking, see Go Lisbon’s azulejos page, or that of the Tile Museum. For information on Walks On The Art Side, see its website.