HeritageWednesday, February 28, 2018
When someone mentions Portugal, a few things come to mind: Port wine, Lisbon,sea- food, surfing, and … azulejos! Even visitors who aren’t familiar with the term may see images of these glazed, ceramic tiles in their mind’s eye. Deeply embedded in Portugal’s history and culture, there are countless wonderful examples of these beautiful tiles. These tiles date as far back as the 13th century, when the Moors invaded the land that now belongs to Spain and Portugal, but they secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th centuries. The word azulejo stems from Arabic roots, mean- ing‘small polished stone’. Only after king Manuel I visited Seville and brought the idea back, that Portugal truly adopted this artwork into its culture. Antique azulejos were decorated in a simple color palate, dominated by blues and whites. It is believed that these colors were influenced by the Age ofDiscoveries (15th – 18th centuries) and considered fashionable at the time. It was (and still is) typical for the Portuguese to tell stories about their history, religion, and culture through this decorative means.
While visiting a church or cathedral in Portugal, visitors should pay as much attention to the alters as the interior and exterior walls. Many are decorated in “azulejos” instead of fabric, depicting a style that started during the 16thcentury.
After the Earthquake of 1755 (which destroyed most of Lisbon), the capi-tal saw a shift from Manueline architecture (a Portuguese-Gothic style) to Pombaline styles, also influencing the use of azulejos. During the last couple of centuries, the use of azulejos exploded. Today, it is common to see them decorating churches, monasteries, restaurants, bars, railway and subway stations, palaces, and regular homes. Some of the most famous sites known for their azulejo art include the Sao Bento Railway Station in Porto, the Buçaco Palace, and many stops in the Lisbon Metro.