Azulejos in Portuguese Culture
Azulejo tiles and motifs are omnipresent in Portugal
It's very hard not to see them, wherever your visit to Portugal takes you: the Azulejos, decorating Portugal's streets, façades, interiors any many other items in a timeless manner.
Azulejos conquered Portugal after King Manuel I saw them during a visit to Seville
The word azulejo has arabic origins. In Arabic, Al-Zuleij means something like "small polished stone". Azulejos made their way to Portugal and Spain during the Moorish invasion. When Portugal's King Manuel I visited Seville in the 15th century, he fell in love with the decorative Azulejos in the city's cathedrals and palaces and incorporated them in Portuguese decorative architecture. While they are also still very dominant in the Spanish-Andalusian culture, it can be said that no other European country has taken over these decorative azulejo tiles like Portugal did.
From the 18th century on, Azulejos in Portugal even became one of the most important elements of Portuguese decorative art. Until today, the Azulejos can still be seen in churches, monasteries, palaces, houses, gardens, fountains and staircases.
Azulejos are still a dominant part of Portugal's decorative art and culture
In many places and old town centres across Portugal, Azulejos transform the streets into living tile museums. In Lisbon, there is even a dedicated and well-known museum dedicated to Azulejos. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo teaches you everything about the history of the azulejo and its technical and artistic development from their beginning to the present in a very unique way.
Azulejos are still used today by Portugal's most avant-garde artists and remain popular for designs of public spaces and other governmental places of national interest.
The Lisbon metro stations are all tiled with azulejos designed by Portuguese artists such as Vieira da Silva or Júlio Pomar. Lisbon's idea of using Azulejos for decorating metro stations was adopted abroad and Azulejo Tiles can now be found in some metro stations in Budapest, Brussels, Paris, Moscow and even Sydney.
Most old train stations throughout the country of Portugal are also decorated with Azulejos, usually presenting scenes or landscapes typical of the station's region.The most notable azulejos are those of the São Bento train station in Porto.
Other good places to admire Azulejos are the art deco buildings in Aveiro's town centre, the Palácio da Vila at the world heritage site of Sintra and the Igreja de São Lourenço in Almancil, in the Algarve.
One of the most bought typical Portugal souvenirs
But these highly decorative ceramic tiles do not have to be limited to memories or photos taken during your last visit to Portugal. There are many decorative items and typical Portuguese souvenirs for sale with Azulejo tiles or their motifs. From ceramic cooking pot coasters to spoon holders, cork wallets with typical portuguese Azulejo motifs, drink coasters to dishcloths or wine stoppers with Azulejo prints on them, everything exists. With the upcoming Christmas celebrations, Azulejos or souvenirs with their motifs on are maybe the ideal gift for your friends or family, bringing some Portuguese sun into your house during the cold and grey winter months.
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