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Azulejo tiles in Porto, Portugal

Azulejo tiles were one of the first things we couldn’t help but notice in Portugal. Azulejos are everywhere, especially in Porto, they’re gorgeous to look at, very colourful and so very Portugese.

Tiled Fascia Porto

The beautiful ceramic tiles embellish the facades of many buildings and as we explored Porto we noticed the eye-catching azulejo tiles decorating everything from benches, street signs and fountains. There were even azulejos adorning huge arty boulders.

Some of the tiles portray historic rustic scenes and other azulejos 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…

A short history of Portugese Azulejo tiles

In the 13th century southern parts of Portugal were under Moorish rule. The Moors introduced the use and production of Azulejo tiles to the country. The name Azulejo originates from the Arabic word az-zulayj, meaning ‘small polished stone’.

In keeping with Islamic law the first tiles were forbidden to portray human subjects, hence the intricate geometric and floral designs.

Tiled House Fascias Porto

From Patterns to People

King Manuel I brought Azulejo tiles from Seville to decorate his palace at Sintra in 1503. Hugely practical, they’d keep the interiors of the palace cool, covered vast areas of blank plaster and required minimal maintenance. 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 on the Azulejos. Over 100 years of painting geometric patterns has got to give at some point hasn’t it… This practical and decorative tiling tradition became a way of telling stories and recalling historical events throughout Portugal.

Azulejos at 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 blue and white Azulejo tiles cover the walls of the old station and illustrate the history of Portugal.

The tiles 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.

Azulejo Tiles São Bento Station
Azulejo Tiles in São Bento Station

Azulejos at the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

Another building in Porto with the mark of artist Jorge Colaço is The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. The 18th-century church 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.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso Porto

Modern Azulejo 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 souvenir fridge magnet in lots of different designs and colourways decorate the market stalls along the Ribeira. You could actually reproduce your own azulejo tile work of art on your fridge when you get back home!

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azulejo tiles porto

Have you seen Azulejo tiles in Portugal?


Wednesday 26th of August 2015

Wow, there are even more tiles that I could possibly have dreamt of! I'm totally obsessed with tiles and I knew Portugal was the place to go, but never imagined so much! I've only seen a hint of them in Macau. I definitely need to get down there. Great documentation of them Suzanne, saw your pin on Pinterest with much glee!

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 26th of August 2015

The tiles are gorgeous - both Lisbon and Porto have some wonderful tiles :) Love Pinterest - I could/do spend hours dreaming over the travel boards!

Packing my Suitcase

Thursday 23rd of July 2015

As Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, we also have lots of azulejos there, mainly in old buildings. Nowadays we still use them, mainly in the bathrooms or for decorating a certain room in the house. I love it! There isn't something like this here in Germany. Love your photos, especially the one with the Vespa <3

Suzanne Jones

Friday 24th of July 2015

The tiles were really lovely and add such a lot of colour to the buildings - there were some beautiful azuljos in Lisbon too. I love the word 'azulejos' too - just rolls off the tongue!


Monday 13th of July 2015

If you love Portuguese Azulejo Tiles, you will also love my jewelry. How about wearing a Piece of History? Portuguese Antique Tile Replica jewelry by Atrio

What to See and Do in Porto | The Travelbunny

Sunday 12th of July 2015

[…] painted by Jorge Colaço, the most important azulejo painter of the time from 1905-1916. There are azulejo tiles all over the city but none with such fascinating scenarios and historical stories. Be careful – […]

Sand In My Suitcase

Monday 6th of July 2015

That railway station looks like a visitor attraction in and of itself! We visited Portugal shortly after getting married, but after spending time in Cascais and Estoril, we headed south from Lisbon. Next time, we'd love to head north to Porto. We bought some tiles though, which we lugged home, thinking one day we could use them as decorative tiles in a bathroom renovation (they're still sitting in the garage, however). So much for the bathroom reno!

Suzanne Jones

Monday 6th of July 2015

I'd like to explor Cascais, Sintra and Estoril - Ihave a cupboard full of souvenirs that never see the light of day!