National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
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National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)

The distinctive ceramic tiles that adorn many of Portugal's buildings are some of the most distinctive characteristics of Portuguese culture. They can be seen on the façades and interiors of churches, railway stations and other public spaces. This unique museum highlights the history of these tiles and exhibits examples from many different periods of Portuguese history. The National Tile Museum was established in 1965 and became a National Museum in 1980. It's housed within the former Madre de Deus Convent that dates back to the early 16th century when the use of these decorative tiles was at their first popular period.
National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
The convent was chosen as the location of the museum because of its splendid baroque architecture with gilded and carved wood, paintings and fine tiled panels. One of the highlights of the museum is a blue and white 23 metre (75ft) long arrangement consisting of over 1300 tiles depicting Lisbon's cityscape that dates from 1738. It is an interesting insight into how Lisbon looked before the great earthquake. Besides tiles, it includes ceramics, porcelain and faience from the 19th to the 20th century. Its permanent exhibition starts with a display of the materials and techniques used for manufacturing tiles. After this brief introduction, the exhibition route follows a chronological order. The Museum went through different building campaigns that involved transformations such as in its 16th-century mannerist cloister; the church which is decorated with remarkable sets of paintings and tiles; the sacristy featuring a Brazilian wood display cabinet and carved wood frames with paintings; the high choir with rich carved giltwood embellishments; the Chapel of Saint Anthony with an 18th-century Baroque decoration and a significant number of canvases by the painter André Gonçalves. Some noteworthy pieces are gilt-framed ceiling panels inlaid with portraits, including those of King João III and his queen, Catherine of Austria. The National Tile Museum is well worth the trip out from the centre of Lisbon and when put together with a nice lunch at the Doca do Jardim do Tobaco not so far away makes for a great half days excursion.

Tuesday - Sunday 10h00 - 18h00, Monday CLOSED
Adult: €5.00, Concessionary: €2.50 Child: FREE. Lisbon Card Lisbon Card: FREE

Getting There


In front of the Museum: 718, 742, 794, 759
Avenida Infante D.Henrique (5 minute walk to the museum): 728, 759
Santa Apolonia Station 20 m. walk), connection by bus 794

Trains of Portugal Website
Santa Apolonia Station, connection by bus 794 on Blue line.
Contact Details
4 Rua da Madre de Deus, 1900-312, Lisbon, Portugal.
38° 43' 29.1"N | 09° 06' 52.0"W | +351 218 100 340
geral@mnazulejo.dgpc.pt |  Website
National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
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History of Azulejo tiles

Arabic Room - National Palace, Sintra
For a long time, I was under the miscomprehension "Azulejo" was derived from the Portuguese word Azul, meaning "blue", because the majority of these tile designs are blue and white. The word comes from the Arabic "Al Zellige" meaning "polished stone". It was the Moors who first introduced the art to the Iberian Peninsula who acquired the craft from Byzantium. Although they add beauty to the surfaces they cover they also serve a very practical role of moderating a building's temperature. The earliest designs reflect the Arabic obsession with geometry decorated with mathematical patterns and glazed with a single colour.

Andalusia became a major centre for Azulejo tile production during the 14th Century and you can find fine examples of this simplest forms of ceramic art in the Alhambra of Granada. It wasn't until Portugal's King Manuel I brought the idea back from Seville that Portugal truly adopted the tradition. He applied tilling to the National Palace in Sintra during restoration work from 1497 to 1530. Over a period of time, the simple geometric shapes became more ornate. During the age of discovery, the designs of Azulejo tiles became picturesque depicting scenes or stories, quite often biblical in nature. The style of using a duotone of blue and white is thought to have been influenced by Chinese pottery. Other colours were used later, notably gold/yellows and greens.
During the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake, there was a move away from the Manueline Gothic and Baroque styles of architecture to a more pragmatic neoclassical style which became known as Pombaline. Buildings were prefabricated and erected quickly using a never seen before method of making the structures capable of withstanding any future seismic shocks. The practice of facing exterior walls in Azulejos fell out of fashion for a few decades. The Alfama district survived the earthquake relatively unscathed and remains the best place to see tile faced buildings.

However, Azulejos popularity eventually returned and ever since have been used adorning the interiors and exteriors of churches, monasteries, restaurants, bars, railway and metro stations, palaces, public spaces and ordinary homes. If one legacy inherited from the Moorish times continues it would be Portugal's "horror vacui", that is a fear of empty space.
Contempory Tile Art - Lisbon Metro

Examples of Azulejos in Lisbon

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