Gallery: tiles, tiles and yet more tiles!
I doubt you can walk more than ten metres through a traditional Portuguese town and not spot a ceramic tile or several! The unique craft of azulejos portugueses is an unmistakable feature of these lovely old houses. And just as you can’t walk far without seeing them, I find it impossible to walk any distance without photographing some!
Azulejos date back to the 13th century, when the Moors invaded the land that today forms Spain and Portugal. The word comes from an Arabic word az-zulayj, meaning ‘polished stone’. At first the tiles were purely geometric in design, obeying the Islamic law that prohibits the portrayal of living figures.
The main influence on early Portuguese tilework was actually Spanish; King Manuel I decorated his own palace in Sintra with them, inspired by seeing them in Seville. And when the Portuguese started to produce their own tiles they quickly moved away from the Moorish tradition. Animals and people became common images, used to illustrate religious, mythological or historical themes. The most common colour scheme is this blue and white one, which was influenced by a fashion for Ming Dynasty porcelain in the 17th century; these are the ones that for me really shout Portugal!
From the 19th century onwards, the use of azulejos exploded, as did the colour palette. Today, it is common to see them decorating churches, monasteries, restaurants, bars, railway stations, palaces, and regular homes. They are also used extensively in interior decoration, as well as on street signs, public benches and walls.
Many of the ones used on buildings have reverted to the tradition of geometrical shapes; they remind me a little of American patchwork designs. Look for instance at the star shape decorating Tavira’s railway station in my post about the sculptures there.
Even when they are worn, or maybe repaired with mismatching designs as in the last of my examples below, I find them rather beautiful and very distinctive. So here’s my own patchwork of azulejos for the Photographing Public Art challenge. The first two were taken in Faro (the first is actually the wall of the house where we rented an apartment); the remainder are from Tavira.
I visited Faro and Tavira in April 2022
Adorable post with everything just amazing. Oh my, how I’d love Portugal!!
You would absolutely love it here Manja – so many many doors worth photographing 😀
I was waiting with baited breath for this post and it was just as I hoped, Sarah! I hadn’t realized from our short visit that the tiles were also in so many other vibrant colors. I particularly loved the green window trim photo. Portugal is one of the very few countries we’ve talked about returning to and your post reminded me why.
I’m very glad this post lived up to your expectations Annie 😀 I think Portugal is definitely worth a revisit. It’s not a big country but it’s got a lot of variety, a lot of beautiful buildings and scenery – and great food! Do you follow Restless Jo (https://stillrestlessjo.com/)? If not you should – you’d love all her posts about life in Portugal as an ex-Pat!
They are all so lovely. What a distinctive art form in their culture!
Yes, very distinctive – when you see these you know you couldn’t be anywhere else but Portugal!
These tiles are so pretty! What a wonderful collection!
Thanks Teresa, I think these are just the sort of detail you enjoy too 🙂
the eternal traveller
They are so beautiful. I see so many patchwork and yarn designs in these tiles.
Thanks – yes, it was the echoes of patchwork that drew me to presenting them in a gallery like this 🙂
It’s a lovely feature and as you say, it makes it different from other places
Indeed – if you were dropped into a Portuguese town without knowing where you were you would at least instantly know what country you were in!
I am not a fan of tile patterns generally, but I know they are popular. I do like “murals” composed of tiles that create a much larger image. I do like how you laid them out in your post. Maybe some day I’ll get to Portugal to see some of these myself. The country was on a cruise we’d scheduled in 2020 that never happened and the replacement cruise scheduled for this fall doesn’t have Portugal on the itinerary, unfortunately.
I like some of the geometric patterns more than others, but I agree there’s something particularly special about the murals. I hope you make it to Portugal some day!
These tiles are so pretty, I think I need a trip to Portugal!! Maggie
Thanks Maggie – it’s definitely worth a visit if you get the chance!
I must admit that I prefer the geometrical shapes to the religious tiles.
I think I like both but of the geometric ones the traditional blue and white are the prettiest 🙂
I did love the tiles in Portugal when I was there. I even bought some. But they are brittle. I think your flower pictures would make good tile patterns.
There’s a ceramics museum in Valencia. And there are ceramics of a different kind in Gaudi’s work in Barcelona.
We bought one some years ago in Lisbon, and more recently bought another in Seville, but no more on this trip. Good point about Gaudi’s use of ceramics 🙂
I thought you might disagree 🙂
So beautiful! I feel this is a feature all towns should adopt and adorn their facades with.
Hmm, I’m not sure I agree. If all towns were like this it wouldn’t be so uniquely Portuguese and we’d all take it for granted instead of being wowed by it!
I don’t know Portugal well, but it seems that the tradition of tile making and usage in building thrives here in a way that it no longer does in neighbouring Spain. I wonder why the difference, in two countries that share so much heritage?
We did find the tradition still very strong in Seville, where it originated. I’m not sure why that isn’t the case more widely in Spain – it’s not a country I know very well, unlike you 😀
Absolutely Sarah … the blue and white tiles are pure Portugal! Thank you for sharing so many of these beautiful patterned tiles!
You’re welcome, and thank you for the nice comment 🙂
It reminds me of the first (only) time I was inside the El Aksa mosque in Jerusalem. It is an incredible display of tiles and art. I have always love ceramics and tiles in particular. Great photography and thank you for the effort.
Ooh, that sounds amazing! We’ve never been to Jerusalem (or anywhere in Israel) but it’s very much on our list 🙂
I love the tiles, the colours and patterns 🙂 🙂
Thank you Brian – I thought that would make a nice patchwork gallery 🙂
Thanks Janet 🙂
True, I’ve yet to find anyone that doesn’t!
There aren’t many days when I don’t stop to admire some. Lovely collection, Sarah. Where exactly did you stay in Faro? I presumed a hotel but a good apartment recommend is always helpful. You can PM if you don’t want to put it here.
I’m very happy to post it here Jo 🙂 We found it excellent – very clean, well decorated, comfy bed, good wifi and in a really great location. It’s the Blue Barqueta Studio (http://blue-barqueta-studio.hotels-in-algarve.com/en/). We booked through booking.com so we could have the flexibility of free cancellation but you can also book direct and through airbnb. The only downside for some people would be the spiral staircase to the mezzanine level bedroom but it wasn’t a problem for us. The street is typical Faro, slightly scruffy, but being outside the old town and not a main thoroughfare it was really quiet. We were only minutes from the bus station, near quite a few bars and restaurants, and could be in the old town inside ten minutes 🙂
Sounds great. I’ll check it out later. Thanks, Sarah 🤗💟
Gorgeous. Those were my mom’s favorite colors- blue and white. It looks pretty work intensive to tile such an expansive area. They last though!!!
Thanks Marsha. Many of the houses are only tiled on the ground floor level (you would say first floor) – perhaps that’s because it’s a lot of work!