Portuguese Mosaic Tiling

Tiles (called azulejos) are everywhere in Portugal. They decorate everything from the walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, houses, fountains, shops, and train stations. They often portray scenes from the history of the country, show its most ravishing sights, or simply serve as street signs, nameplates, or house numbers.

The term azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj, meaning ‘polished stone.’ The Moors brought this term to the Iberian Peninsula but, despite their long presence, their influence in early Portuguese azulejos was actually introduced from Spain in the 15th century. No tile work from the time of the Moorish occupation survives in Portugal.

I’ve been fascinated by these tiles since arriving in Portugal, as to a northern European they were an unusual sight. Nowadays, in Portugal much of the popular decorative tile work of the mid- to late-twentieth century is taken for granted, and modern buildings are decorated with plain tiles or just painted. But there are still many older buildings around Portugal that are decorated, from mass-produced tiles to hand painted tiles, and I have decided to record them wherever I can.