National Azulejo Museum, Lisbon

The National Azulejo Museum in Lisbon is an art lover's delight. Housed in a convent dating to the 1400s, this museum is dedicated to studying the history of ceramic tile art in Portugal. It takes a sweeping look at this particular art form as it developed in Portugal over the centuries and some of its exhibits are simply awe-inspiring. While the typical museum patron may not believe there is much variety to be found in the evolution of ceramic tiles, a visit to the National Azulejo Museum will show them things they never imagined.

Ceramic tiles, or azulejos, are a popular decorating item in Portugal even today. This is part of a long-standing tradition in decor in the country that goes back centuries into the past. Azulejos are found everywhere in Portugal, from churches to restaurants to schools. It is the usual way of things to decorate the azulejos with scenes depicting the theme of the building in which they are displayed. One can simply not visit Portugal without seeing a variety of ceramic tile art. It's all over the country in every conceivable location.

The National Azulejo Museum showcases the history of the development of this uniquely Portuguese decorative art form. First introduced to Portugal by the Moors in the 1300s, the tiles were made in either Spain or Rome and imported until the 1600s. It was at that time that decorative ceramic tiles began to be made locally in Portugal, and they are still made there even to the present day. The National Azulejo Museum has examples of these tiles from the very first ones produced 700 years ago to modern ones that are still relatively new.

The museum was originally opened in 1965 as a part of the National Museum of Ancient Art. It broke off into its own separate museum in 1980. Housed in an ancient convent that is a historical treasure unto itself, the tiles are arranged chronologically. The oldest tiles are Moorish and on the first floor. Newer tiles are seen the higher up you go in the convent. The height of tile making in Portugal was in the 1600s and there are some very spectacular examples of highly elaborate tile panels from that time period in the museum.

In addition to showcasing tiles from the past seven centuries, the history of tile making techniques is also shown in the museum. The art of making azulejos evolved significantly from the original 1300s Moorish tiles to the tiles of today. Take a walk back through time at the National Azulejo Museum by examining the history of Portugal through its favorite form of decorative art. You'll be surprised at what you learn and at how amazed you'll be by the intricate tile displays from centuries gone by.