The term "azulejo" comes from Arabic and boasts 500 years of national production, making it a unique and distinctive decorative element. The art of azulejos took root in the Iberian Peninsula under the influence of the Arabs, who introduced the then-unknown mosaics to adorn the walls of their palaces, lending an extraordinary brilliance to their abodes. They adapted these mosaics to fit our reality and culture, giving birth to the well-known Portuguese azulejos.
It was during a trip to Granada that King Manuel I fell in love with azulejos and brought them to Portugal. The first azulejos decorated the National Palace of Sintra, which was the king's residence. In 1560, seventy years later, workshops in Lisbon started producing azulejos using techniques imported from Italy. Portuguese artists were inspired by Italian ceramics for their azulejo paintings.
Ever Wondered Why Most Azulejos Are Blue?
During the era of trade with the East, Europeans were fascinated by the elegance of Chinese porcelain. However, the necessary ingredients for making this porcelain did not exist in Europe, making it difficult to produce and highly valuable. In the 17th century, the Dutch began making tiles in similar blue and white tones in an attempt to imitate this technique. These tiles pleased the Portuguese so much that they commissioned numerous panels to adorn Portuguese facades. Azulejos then became a symbol of opulence, and the new tile industry flourished with orders from the nobility and clergy. Large panels were created to embellish the walls of buildings, churches, palaces, convents, and more. Inspiration for these tiles came from decorative arts, travels, and Portuguese conquests. The most popular themes for decoration included military campaigns, historical events, scenes from everyday life, religious motifs, and more. It was up to the potters to fulfill these requests, copying the models and adapting them to the realities of their buyers. By the end of the 17th century, the execution of this art form became faster, entire families were involved, and this marked the emergence of painters asserting themselves as artists, signing their works.
After the 1755 earthquake, the reconstruction of Lisbon increased the pace of standard azulejo production, now known as "Pombalinos," used to decorate new buildings that had once been destroyed. These azulejos were mass-produced, combining industrial and artisanal techniques.
In the 19th century, azulejos ceased to be the exclusive domain of the nobility and clergy, adorning the facades of ordinary buildings. Urban landscapes lit up with reflected light on glazed surfaces. In the 20th century, azulejos were used to decorate railway and metro stations. Later, they entered Portuguese homes and began to be used in bathrooms, kitchens, and as decorative pieces as we know them today.
- Initially, azulejos were used to prevent homes from dampness due to their impermeable glazed surface. They were commonly used in wet areas due to their low cost and durability.
- Portugal is the World Capital of Azulejos, although they are used in other countries. In Portuguese lands, azulejos have been used for over 500 years without interruption. It has survived time and modernity, remaining a vital form of artistic expression.
- The oldest functioning tile factory in Portugal is still operational; it's called Sant'Anna and has been in Lisbon since 1741. Today, 90% of its production is dedicated to international markets.
- Azulejos represent the oldest form of "comic strips" in our country. The clergy used them to recreate biblical moments, as books were not accessible to the entire population.
Cláudia Ferreira, who holds a degree in Communication Sciences from Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, is currently serving as the assistant director and commercial representative at Casaiberia.