I’ve always loved looking at the beautiful tiles in Spain and it turned out that Portugal is practically covered with them! The National Tile Museum was one of the first museums I went to see.
I learnt in the Museum that its Portuguese name, azulejo comes from the Arab azzelij or al zulejcha, which means ceramic tile. It has been around for an extremely long time, since the 13th century, to be precise. Similarly to Spain, Portugal was also under Muslim rule. The Spanish chased them out of the country however their decorating style was left behind. The Portuguese took over their rigid geometric forms (according to their religion they are not allowed to depict anything resembling a living thing as only God has the power to create) then slowly turned them into their liking, however the Islamic motifs endured for centuries.
I was fascinated to learn about how each tile was formed and decorated.
The building of the Museum is also fascinating. It is housed in a Convent of the Mother of God which does not look very impressive from the outside however some areas are jawdroppingly beautiful. For example the chapel which was decorated in a Baroque style and its walls and the ceiling are all filled with huge paintings.
You can take a break and relax in the shady courtyard or walk around the cloister.
Walking through the rooms of the Museum is like walking through time as you can follow the history of the ceramic tiles over the centuries. The Portuguese tile has found its identity in the painted blue scenes which you can see examples of all over the country.
Some of the modern, contemporary designs.
The pride and joy of the Museum is this huge, panoramic view of Lisbon from before the 1755 earthquake. There are little plaques at the bottom to explain the many churches, convents and palaces on the paining.
The National Tile Museum is a bit away from the centre on Rua Madre de Deus, 4, but easily accessible by the buses 794 and 742. It's open from Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 18pm. The normal entry fee was 6 euros at the time of writing however the Museum is free to enter on every first Sunday of the month.