The cultural variety of Lisbon is visible at first sight – Portuguese, immigrants and travellers from all over the world. Those who decided to stay longer, with time, have started to form an integral unity with the city. Regardless of their nationality. Azulejo the symbol of Lisbon and Portuguese architecture has a similar history.

Beginings of azulejo

Colourful tiles are an inseparable element of the traditional architecture their lineage is totally different. The tails came to Europe (incl. Italy, Spain, Portugal or Netherlands) with Moors. An Arabic word azzelij means ‘little smooth stone’. First come Portuguese mosaics based on Moorish and Spanish techniques. Elements in contrasting colours were laid in geometrical and floral patterns. Dyes were extracted from metal oxides: cobalt (blue), copper (green), manganese (brown and black), iron (yellow), tin (white). However azulejo is not only a decoration. The usage of the ceramic tiles is beneficial also because of sanitary and firefighting aspects.

Great Career of The Small Tiles

The popularity of the tiles increased in 15th century thanks to Italian technique maiolica. Consequently a process of dyeing the glaze faster was developed. Painting repetitive patterns on the huge mosaics-carpets such as azulejo de padrão or azulejo de tapete, lowered productions costs. Renaissance and Baroque brought new techniques of ornamentation. It places importance on decorativeness (e.g. vases, fruits, flowers) and large format scenes painéis historiados. Dutch influence (17th century) contributed to the change of colouring. As a result the tiles were dyed only blue and white, to imitate the Chinese porcelain. As a result, it is considered that the name azulejo refers to Portuguese azul – blue. With time the art of the tiles’ decoration and production have become mastery. In 17th century Portuguese king forbade import of azulejo to support workshops of the local masters such as António Pereira or Manuel dos Santos.

 and the city’s reconstruction caused a return to the mass production. Simple, less decorative tiles were placed mainly on the tops of facades or friezes. At the end of the 19th century, Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro opened one of the well-known ceramic tile factories in Caldas da Rainha. Twentieth-century artists such as António Costa or Jorge Colaço were creating monumental scenic visualisations. However, they were not placed only on facades of the buildings but also in the interiors of metro stations. An interesting example of this modern design is Atelier Surrealejos, which is manufacturing surrealistic motifs.

For a while, I became a part of this multicultural mosaic which covers the entire city. I felt like an individual element of a spectacular totality. Perhaps, because of this, it is very hard to leave Lisbon.