What is the history behind Portuguese Tiles Azulejos?

The Art of Azulejos is also known as Tile Art. Azulejos, or Portuguese ceramic tiles, are used to decorate all types of surfaces in Portugal, ranging from walls of buildings (churches, palaces, railway stations and civilian homes) to benches, fountains, dining tables, staircases, and house numberings. The tiles can also be seen in Canada, the U.S., Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, Macau, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Peru, and Mexico City.


They have been used prominently in Portugal more than any other country but are not considered to be a Portuguese invention. The Egyptians were the first to use glazed tiles to make tiled murals and decorations, of which the Moors in the 13th century brought the tile art (consisting of tiles placed into geometric shapes) over to Spain. The Spanish loved the Azulejos and decided to cover walls of building in the tile art accordingly. There is also a tradition of their production in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in North America, South America, Goa, Lusophone Africa and the Philippines.


Then back in the 15th century, King Manuel I of Portugal made a visit to Spain in which he discovered the tile art which covered the walls of buildings around the country. Tile art was used to cover the bare walls of buildings in order to bring further depth of character to them and to showcase unique and incredible designs which were very popular. The tiles were initially imported to meet great demand in Portugal, however as the people of Portugal embraced the new Azulejos they decided to have Portuguese workers develop their skills to make the art tiles.


The Portuguese then started to refine this art of tile mural making and decided to expand its uses beyond the typical geometric shapes murals, which although distinct they lacked inspiration. They expanded the tile mural art to include depictions of animals and humans, whilst taking inspiration from renaissance paintings. When making the Azulejos they used primary colors (white, green, yellow and blue).


Such types of tiles are vulnerable to vandalism, negligence and theft because of their prevalence and relative ease of access in ancient and often decayed buildings across Portugal. In Lisbon, tiles can sometimes be found for sale at street fairs and the black market, despite recent efforts to raise awareness among consumers, who are mostly foreign tourists.


Since 2013, it has been prohibited to demolish buildings with tile-covered facades in this city in an attempt to protect its cultural heritage from deterioration The capital has the highest number of thefts, and the Lisbon authorities estimate that 25% of the total number of artistic tiles in the capital has been lost.


It was known that certain artists were recognized for their incredible works and often signed their names on to their unique tile mural creations.


The azulejo took on the iconic blue and white as we know it today in the 17th century, influenced by China's Ming Dynasty porcelain. Some of the notable people associated with this tile art form are Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Júlio César da Silva and Maria Keil, and Jorge Colaço.


Azulejos is a very popular option for decoration on buildings and for home decor.

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