Porto - Azulejo Tile Style
The Azulejo tile is one of the first things we couldn’t help but notice in Porto – they’re everywhere! The beautiful ceramic tiles embellish the facades of many buildings and as we roamed the city we noticed the eye-catching tiles decorating everything from benches, street signs and fountains. They even adorned huge arty boulders. Some of the tiles portray historic rustic scenes and others are decorated with intricate geometric designs or flowers. Many are coloured blue and white but there’re others in the traditional Mediterranean colours of green and yellow. Here’s what we discovered…
The Azulejo tile was introduced to Portugal by the Moors and the name Azulejo originates from the Arabic word az-zulayj, which means ‘polished stone’. In keeping with Islamic law the first tiles were not allowed to portray human subjects, hence the geometric and floral designs.
From Patterns to People
King Manuel I brought tiles from Seville to decorate his palace at Sintra in 1503. Hugely practical they’d keep the interiors cool whilst needing minimal maintenance and covered vast areas of blank plaster. So much easier just to wipe them down instead of a whole new paint job. By the 1600s the Portugese started to use human and animal figures. Over 100 years of painting geometric patterns has got to give at some point…
São Bento Station
Probably the most beautiful railway station in the world and the most well-known tiled building in Porto is the São Bento Railway Station. Over 20 thousand tiles covering the walls of the old station illustrate the history of Portugal. They were painted by Jorge Colaço, the most important azulejo painter of the time from 1905-1916. We stood and craned our necks checking out the fascinating scenarios and found some more unusual tiles amongst the artwork. But be careful – you could easily miss your train while engrossed in the station’s epic tile-work.
The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
Another building with the mark of artist Jorge Colaço is The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. The 18th-century church’s facade is covered in nearly 11,000 azulejo tiles and is an imposing building. The tiles are newer than those in São Bento Station and were added to the church in 1932. On the day we saw it the colour of the sky mirrored the blue of the tiles.
For a different take on Porto’s azulejos there is a modern art installation just opposite Sao Bento Station where large tiled boulders can be found. The ubiquitous fridge magnet in lots of different designs and colourways decorate the market stalls along the Ribeira – so you could actually reproduce your own azulejo work of art in your kitchen!