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Portugal Ceramic Tiles: Glazed Tiles Azulejo Is a Blue Miracle of Portugal

09.04.2021
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azulejos lisbon

Azulejo is a painted glazed ceramic tile that occupies the most important place in Portuguese culture, without which it is impossible to imagine Portuguese architecture and Portuguese art in general. In Portugal, azulejos are everywhere – on the facades and interiors of churches, public buildings, and residential buildings. They are used to decorate stair steps, fountains, benches, shop signs, street names, metro stations and train stations. Glazed ceramic tiles have become part of the life of the Portuguese, have become a part of their life and one of the main symbols of Portugal. The history of Portuguese azulejos begins in the 15th century. However, this art is rooted in the depths of history.

Portugal ceramic tiles is a glazed, painted, fired square-shaped clay tile, the size of which varies from 12 cm to 14 cm. The name “azulejo” (port. “Azulejo”) has Arabic roots since it was the Arabs who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century and brought glazed tiles that have been used in the East for wall cladding since ancient times to Europe.

What Are Azulejo Tiles Made Of?

The secret of portuguese mosaic tiles in the vitreous coating, which is distinguished by its gloss and gives the tiles hardness and moisture resistance. The glazing process is carried out by covering the dried clay tile with glaze, followed by firing. The addition of metal oxides to the glaze makes it possible to impart a particular color to the product, which is obtained during firing in furnaces at high temperatures.

What Culture Are Azulejo Tiles From?

It is interesting that in Portugal and Spain the portuguese tile art appeared thanks to the Arabs. After all, the first facing ceramics were made in the East. In Portugal, samples of ancient azulejos are still preserved – they adorn the walls of the Conceisan monastery and the palace in Sintra. Experts say that they belong to the 15th century, that is, this tile is about 500 years old.

Portuguese Tiles History

The Iranian type of glazed tiles penetrated into Europe together with the Arab conquerors, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. Therefore, the basis of the Spanish and Portuguese azulejos is precisely the Iranian tradition of the production of glazed ceramic tiles, which has its roots in the art of the Ancient East.

Glazed ceramics are becoming the most important decorative elements of religious buildings and palaces of Moorish architecture in Spain. Spanish glazed tiles from the Alcazar Palace in Seville (XIII century), from the Alhambra Palace in Granada (XIII-XIV century), and from the chapel of St. Bartholomew in Cordoba (XIV century) are striking examples of the use of ceramics in the decoration of the premises of Moorish architecture.

what culture are azulejo tiles from

The popularity of azulejo tile peaked in the middle of the 19th century, when the original tiles entered mass production and began to be widely used for wall cladding in palaces and temples, and then for decorating residential buildings, not only from the inside but also from the outside. Also, Azuleja was often decorated with the risers of city stairs. A similar decor can still be found on the streets of Lisbon.

On Portuguese soil, the word “zullage” became “azulejo”. Ceramic panels from the Royal Palace in Sintra, dating from the middle of the 15th century, are considered the very first azulejos Portugal. It is believed that they were made by Spanish craftsmen who came from Seville. From the Muslim cultural tradition, a plant-geometric ornament and a color scheme were inherited, in which mainly four colors were used, obtained from metal oxides: blue (cobalt), green (copper), brown (manganese), white (tin).

The first Lisbon Portugal tiles were made using a technique called alicatado in Spain. The name of the technique comes from the Spanish word “alicates” (tongs, pliers). While the clay was still soft, the ceramists cut it with tongs. Then, ornamental compositions were laid out from the resulting glazed fired pieces. However, this technique, imitating mosaics, was very laborious.

Since the decorative pattern of the tiles initially did not differ in variety and was repeated, they began to use special forms-blanks made of wood, with the help of which the pattern was imprinted on the still soft clay. Protruding grooves formed on the surface, which prevented the color of the glaze from mixing during firing. This is how the embossed ceramic tiles were obtained. These embossed tiles are part of the decorative decoration of the Royal Palace in Sintra, along with the tiles made in the “alicatado” technique.

Portuguese Blue and White Tiles

portuguese tile art

In the 17th century, another revolutionary change took place in the art of azulejos. Influenced by Dutch blue and white tiles, Portuguese azulejos become two-tone. First, Portugal buys unusual tiles from the Dutch. For example, in the Convento dos Cardais of the Carmelites in Lisbon, eight ceramic panels appeared, made in the 1680s by the Dutch master Jan van Oort, illustrating scenes from the life of the 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun Saint Teresa of Avila.

The Portuguese artisans, fascinated by the Delft blue and white tiles, begin to produce two-tone ceramic tiles themselves. And soon all of Portugal is covered with blue and white ceramic panels. XVII – XVIII centuries – the era of the domination of blue drawing on a white background, huge multi-figured ceramic paintings in the ecclesiastical and secular architecture of Portugal.

The Azulejo Portuguese Tiles Museum

portuguese blue and white tiles

The Azulejo Museum is located in an old 16th-century monastery building in the Church of Our Lady, built by Queen Eleanor Viseu in 1509 and belonging to the Order of Saint Clara.

The strikingly beautiful chapel is part of the exhibition. It surprisingly combines shining gold ornaments with blue and white tiles and a carved wooden ceiling.

The building itself is a historical value and is of particular interest.

The museum has existed in its current form since 1973. However, it began in 1954, when a large-scale restoration of the monastery and the opening of an exhibition of azulejos lisbon and medieval art objects – paintings, furniture, fabrics, etc.

At the end of the exhibition, the Azulejo National Museum was established on the basis of the exposition.

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