One of the most notable aspects of Lisbon’s enthralling architecture is its vibrant ceramic tiles. You will never tire of seeing building after building with a wide variety of these colorful Portuguese tiles, or azulejos, ceramic tiles adorning buildings and homes. It’s an easy taxi ride to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo ( National Tile Museum), one of the most important national museums, noted for the singularity of its collection, Azulejo, an iconic artistic expression distinguishing Portuguese culture. The museum is set in the Madre de Deus Convent, founded in 1509 and its collections allow a journey through the history of tile from the 15th Century until present days.
Presented in a unique building, the former Madre de Deus Convent was founded in 1509 by Queen D. Leonor. Belonging to the convent, the Madre de Deus church within the museum, is decorated in full Portuguese baroque splendor, with gilded and carved wood, paintings and tile panels.
The Moors introduced the art of tile-making to Spain and Portugal. The word azulejo comes from the Arabic azzelij, or alzuleycha, which means “small polished stone” and refers to a ceramic piece, usually squared, with one side glazed. Early examples drew heavily on Moorish style and technique, materials and photographs explain the procedure behind the manufacture and decoration of these tiles.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo was established in 1965 and became a National Museum in 1980. The Museum went through several building campaigns involving transformations including 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 gilt wood embellishments; the Chapel of Saint Anthony with an 18th-century Baroque decoration and a significant number of canvases by the painter André Gonçalves.
Throughout the 17th Century, the Church was the main commissioner of repetitive pattern tiles. It was a very successful solution in decorative terms as the tiles often covered the entire walls of the Church interior. Arranged in patterns of 2×2,4×4, 6×6 and 12×12 modules, forming carpets framed by borders or friezes which were essential to integrate the design into a specific space. At that time, the tiles were decorated in several colors: blue, green and yellow, although blue-painted tiles on a white background were also manufactured.
The Portuguese pattern tiles in the 17th century have no equal in other European centers.
The museum also 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. Explanations and drawings guide you through the process, there is also a museum App you can download for a personal tour. The exhibition route follows a chronological order.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo Lisboa
Wander the exceptional passageways decorated with elaborate carved ceilings, the embellishments are as enticing as the grand collection of tiles. On the top floor, is one of the most striking of all the museum’s tile panels, the Great Panorama of Lisbon. At nearly 120 feet long, this amazing work depicts Lisbon and its environs before the 1755 earthquake. Many of the buildings including the Cathedral (Se), and Sao Vicente de Fora are easily recognized.
Private tours can be arranged as well as a full day tour. Learn all about ‘azulejos’ on a full-day tour that includes a tile-making workshop in Azeitão and a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Travel about 45 minutes to reach lovely Azeitão and study with an expert tile artist. Make your own tile to take home, then have the option to stop for lunch in the fishing village of Sesimbra or in Lisbon.
There is a small gallery shop and a café within the museum.
Rua da Madre de Deus 4, Lisbon 1900-312