Azulejos: The Visual Art of Portugal

Azulejos: The Visual Art of Portugal

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Glazed blue ceramic tiles or azulejos are everywhere in Portugal. They cover the walls of train stations, restaurants, bars, public murals, and fountains, churches, and altar fronts. Azulejos can be seen on park benches and paved sidewalks or adorning the facades of buildings and houses in towns and municipalities all over the country.

Traditional tile art tells the stories of Portugal's proud seafaring history by depicting navigators and the famous ships called the caravel. More modern tile art might show animals such as tigers and elephants – compositions inspired by oriental designs of the 17th century CE – or the contemporary geometric expressions of Portuguese artist Maria Keil (1914-2012 CE) who produced the stunning tilework for Lisbon's metro stations in the 1950s CE.

The distinctive blue of azulejos might lead you to think that the word derives from azul (the Portuguese word for blue). But azulejos has its origin in the Arabic term for a small, smooth polished stone - aljulej or azulej - and this evolved to azulejo in Portuguese (pronounced ah-zoo-le-zhoo).

Tile art is not merely decorative; it forms a visual historical record of Portugal. So let us take a tour of the national tile museum and discover the history of Portuguese ceramic tiles.

Visiting the Museu Nacional do Azulejo

To really appreciate the beautiful tile art of Portugal, a visit to Lisbon's national tile museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is well worth the time. The museum preserves Portugal's ceramic art from the 15th century CE, and visitors will learn how the decorative language of azulejos traces the country's cultural identity and the evolution of techniques that were used in crafting azulejos.

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The use of glazed & decorative ceramic tiles did not originate in Portugal but stretches back to ancient Assyria & Babylon.

The museum is located in the Xabregas district of Lisbon and covers three floors of the Madre de Deus Convent, founded in 1509 CE by Dona Leonor de Viseu (1458-1525 CE), widow of King Joao II (r. 1481-1495 CE). The golden and gilded interior is due to the renovation that took place after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 CE, which partly destroyed the convent.

Historical Snapshot

The use of glazed and decorative ceramic tiles did not originate in Portugal, but stretches back to ancient Assyria and Babylon and shows us that the ancient world was filled with colour. Decorated tiles and bricks have been found on the walls of ancient Assyrian palaces. The Great Gate of Ishtar, which stood at the entrance to Babylon, is perhaps the most famous example of ancient tile art. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605/604-562 BCE) ordered the gate to be constructed c. 575 BCE, and it features lions, young bulls (aurochs), and dragons (sirrush) against a vibrant cobalt blue glazed background.

In ancient Egypt, Pharoah Djoser (c. 2670 BCE), who was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt, had his funerary chamber in the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara covered with blue faience tiles with yellow lines for papyrus stems.

Lead glazing was known to the Romans who first used the technique in the 1st century BCE. The Greco-Roman world, however, favoured the mosaic technique which was created by setting tesserae — small pieces of stone or glass — into intricate designs on floors and walls in public buildings, private homes, and temples. They also decorated surfaces by painting on wet lime plaster (called the fresco technique) and applying interior or exterior plaster to create relief effects (called stuccowork).

The Moors brought Islamic mosaic & tile art to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century CE.

In countries where Islamic culture flourished, wall tiles using geometric designs became an important aspect of tile art and religious expression. Islamic potters developed lustre tiles for use in palaces, mosques and holy shrines, which gave these buildings a distinctive iridescent finish.

Perhaps the earliest example of Islamic tile decoration can be seen on the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra) located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was erected by the Muslim caliph Abd el-Malik in 688-691 CE, but Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566 CE) was responsible for the mosque's renovation and the replacement of exterior mosaics with shimmering tiles.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey is known as the Blue Mosque because more than 20,000 striking blue and white Iznik tiles cover its interior. Iznik was a Turkish centre of tile and ceramic production for the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century CE.

You may be wondering why the ancient world seemed to be saturated in blue, and that is because the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli (which means “stone of the sky”) was prized in antiquity for its royal blue hue and was thought to be connected with knowledge, insight, and magical powers.

Islamic & Italian Influences

The Moors brought Islamic mosaic and tile art to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century CE and it is here that our story really begins.

King Manuel I of Portugal (r. 1495-1521 CE) visited Seville and the Alhambra palace in Granada and was dazzled by the Islamic geometric-patterned ceramic tiles he saw. King Manuel was one of the wealthiest monarchs in the Christian world thanks to the Portuguese age of discovery (early 15th - mid 17th century CE). He imported azulejos from Seville and decorated The Arab Room in his palace at Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra). The Spanish Muslim geometric patterns used in this room are called mudejar, and this period of tile decoration is known as the Hispano-Moresque.

The palace at Sintra remained largely intact after the 1755 CE earthquake destroyed most of the city. Should you visit the national tile museum, you should also take a tour of the palace at Sintra (around 25 km or 15 m north of Lisbon).

The highlight of the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo is the 1,300 traditional blue and white panoramic panel called The Great View of Lisbon. Located on the top floor, it is 23 metres (75 ft) in length and was made by the Spanish-born tile painter Gabriel del Barco (c. 1649-1701 CE) in 1700 CE. It is one of the few extant visual records of the cityscape before the devastating earthquake.

But perhaps the most fascinating example of Portuguese tile art is the polychrome panel known as Nossa Senhora da Vida (Our Lady of Life) located on the first floor of the museum. It is Portugal's oldest azulejo and is an important piece of 16th-century CE Portuguese tile production.

The 1st Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782 CE) presided over the reconstruction of Lisbon.

Following the Reconquista – when Spanish and Portuguese territories on the Iberian Peninsula were taken back from Muslim control – the Portuguese were free to develop their own style of hand-painted azulejos. Tile painters were no longer bound by Islamic law that forbade the portrayal of human figures and they could now paint animals and humans, historical and cultural events, religious imagery, flowers, fruit, and birds.

The 1580 CE panel consists of 1,498 azulejos painted in trompe l'oeil (a style of painting that is intended to give a convincing illusion of reality). It is an early and outstanding example of Portuguese religious iconography and includes images of the adoration of the shepherds and John the Evangelist (c. 15 – c. 100 CE). The blue and white squares create illusory depth, while the green, yellow, and blue painted figures and patterns imitate a painted board with a gold gilt frame. The rectangle in the upper lunette indicates that a window was once in the azulejo (it was originally a retable wall in the Church of Santo André in Lisbon).

The Portuguese Style

The 1st Marquis of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, (1699-1782 CE), presided over the reconstruction of Lisbon and architectural ceramic tiles started to follow the so-called Pombalino style. Known as azulejos pombalinos, ceramic tiles moved from the interior of churches and buildings to the exterior – covering public and religious monuments, palaces, stairway walls, houses, restaurants, and gardens. Azulejos pombalinos were also considered an effective and low-cost building solution.

Up to this point, the church and nobility had commissioned decorative ceramics, but we start to see the democratisation of tiles because of their extensive use in urban housing and the rebuilding of the city. To meet demand, the Real Fábrica de Louça tile production factory opened in the Rato district of Lisbon, and 1715 CE saw the last foreign import of ceramic tiles.

The Portuguese overseas expansion starting in the early 14th century CE resulted in a meeting of many cultures, and azulejos reflected a sense of the exotic by including elephants, monkeys, and indigenous peoples from colonies and territories such as Brazil. Indian printed textiles showing Hindu and nature symbols became fashionable between 1650-1680 CE, particularly a composition called aves e ramagens ("birds and branches").

The Leopard Hunt (1650-1675 CE), which is on display at the museum, incorporates themes from Portugal's overseas conquests along with European cultural traditions. The polychrome faience panel came to the museum from Quinta de Santo António da Cadriceira in Torres Vedras (about 50 km or 30 miles north of Lisbon) and shows a female leopard being hunted by indigenous people crowned with feathers.

The Chicken's Wedding panel (1660-1667 CE) demonstrates the creative flair of Portuguese artisans in the 17th century CE but it also shows how commissioned azulejos often spread social satire or political messages. In this large panel, a chicken is conveyed in a carriage that is escorted by a cortege of monkeys playing musical instruments. Singerie (French for “Monkey Trick”) is the name given to a visual image in which fashionably dressed monkeys display human behaviour, and it emerged as a distinct genre in the 16th century CE.

The panel is at the museum and a tour guide might tell you that monkeys are often linked to satire and that The Chicken's Wedding could be interpreted as a political commentary on Spain and its supporters during the War of Restoration (1640-1668 CE), which ended 60 years of dual monarchy in Portugal and Spain under the Spanish Habsburgs and established Portugal's new ruling dynasty: the House of Braganza.

The Baroque (c. 1600-1750 CE) and Rococo (c. 1700-1800 CE) movements resulted in a style of azulejos that is unique to Portugal – figuras de convite or invitation figures. These were ornate life-size figures, usually a finely dressed nobleman or woman, and they were fixed to the walls of stairways and at entrances to palaces to welcome or invite guests inside. They made direct eye contact with people and one can only imagine the surprise guests received when coming upon one of these figures. Invitation figures were a design innovation for the Portuguese because they were outlines or cut-outs rather than the traditional square tile composition.

After the flirtation with ornate flourishes and often macabre themes during the 17th and 18th centuries CE, azulejos designs of the 19th century CE catered to the tastes of the newly emerging bourgeoisie (a social order that was dominated by the so-called middle class). The bourgeoisie wanted azulejos to reflect their social success and status and the nouveau-riche emigrants returning from Brazil brought with them the trend of decorating the facades of their houses with ceramic tiles that kept the interior cool and reduced outside noise. As a result, there was a move away from large panels to smaller and more delicately executed azulejos.

Industrialisation introduced new techniques such as the transfer-print method on blue and white or polychrome azulejos, although hand-painted tiles remained popular. Mass production meant that tiles could be produced at a lower cost and a greater variety of stylized designs, from traditional patterns to foreign adaptations, could be offered.

The Art Nouveau period (c. 1890-1910 CE) saw facades decorated with the flowing, curved lines of flowers, plants, vines, leaves, insects, and animals that were typical of the Art Nouveau movement. The cultural elite, however, started to view tile art as old-fashioned and dismissed it as being for the masses.

Public Art

You can spend hours at the museum, going room by room through Portugal's visual history, but you can also stroll down any street in Lisbon and see azulejos that have weathered rain and sun for hundreds of years. Often you will see someone outside their house cleaning and polishing azulejos.

When you reach the museum, sit down at the café, sip a galão - the Portuguese coffee that is like a milky latte - and you will see an amazing 18th-century CE azulejo panel showing pigs and fish hanging up and waiting to be prepared for cooking.

How To Get There

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is located on Rua da Madre de Deus 4, Lisbon. You can take bus 794 from Comercio Square and this will drop you at the entrance to the museum. Or you can enjoy a 20-minute walk from Santa Apolonia metro station, stopping to look at street azulejos along the way. There is a handy map on the museum's website.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm with the last admission being at 5.30 pm.

Before your visit, you can download a mobile app that offers a guided tour of the most significant azulejos on exhibition.

And if you want to start your own azulejos collection, you can take a workshop at the museum on creating faience tiles - what design would you do?

Porto - Azulejo Tile Style

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.

Azulejo Tiles in São Bento Station

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.

Modern 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!

  • OFFICIAL NAME: Portuguese Republic
  • FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic, parliamentary democracy
  • CAPITAL: Lisbon
  • POPULATION: 10,355,493
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Portuguese, Mirandese
  • MONEY: Euro
  • AREA: 35,516 square miles (91,985 square kilometers)


Portugal is the westernmost point of Europe and lies on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The long Atlantic coastline is popular with visitors and locals alike. Surfers are drawn to the strong surf in the west, and the warm, sandy beaches in the south are a haven for tourists.

Most people live along the coast, with a third of the population living in the large metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


Portuguese cities still retain their historic character and many of the old buildings remain intact. Lisbon hasn't changed much since the late 18th century. The natural environment is well preserved and there is no serious pollution.

The art of tile painting and glazing, known as azulejos, is one of the most popular art forms in Portugal. The technique was first introduced by the Moors and was adopted by the king in the 1500s and the use of the blue and white tiles spread across the country and is practiced by artisans today.

Eight out of ten Portuguese people are Roman Catholic. Saints' days and religious festivals are very popular events. Although the country has been modernized thanks to the money it receives from richer European countries, the people are still quite poor compared to those in other countries.


Most of Portugal was once covered by forests. Today, only a quarter of the country remains forested. While some native species, such as the cork tree are still common, many plants are foreign species and were introduced by humans.

Farming and hunting have reduced the numbers of wild animals living in Portugal. The common animals are boars, wild goats, fallow deer, foxes, and Iberian hares. The Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat species in the world. Portugal and Spain are working together to create open space to allow the remaining few hundred lynxes to roam freely.

The coastline is a rich habitat for crabs, clams, and oysters, and tuna, bonito, and sardines are a common catch for Portuguese fisherman.

Many migratory birds stop in Portugal while on their journey to and from central Europe to Africa and beyond.

The azulejos: a Moorish art born in Spain

The word azulejo is derived from the Arabic word az-zulayj which means “little polished stone”. This origin shows the unmistakable Arab influence in tiles. The Moors occupied the Iberian peninsula between the 8 th and the 15 th century they brought their ceramic techniques, including the opaque tin glaze. Originally, their idea was to reproduce the Greco-Roman mosaics with fragments of coloured tin-glazed tiles.

During the 12 th century, tiles were cut in small pieces and assembled to create mosaics they are known in Spain as alicatados. Later on were used cloisonné techniques known as cuerda seca (dry-string) and arista (edge). They made it possible to separate several colours on the the same tile. The city of Seville was the major centre of the Hispano-Moresque tile industry.

Wonderful examples of original Moorish tile-works can be admired in Spain in the Alhambra of Granada and the Alcazar of Seville, and in Portugal, in the Arab Room of the Sintra National Palace.

The Italian Renaissance in Seville

A revolution took place around 1500 under the influence of the Italian Renaissance. Then appeared the type of tiles that we usually picture nowadays as “azulejos”.
Francisco Niculoso was a painter of Italian tin-glazed pottery, known in Italy as “maiolica”. He came from Pisa and established himself in Seville in 1498. Seville tile studios had always produced tiles with geometric patterns under the Moorish influence. Niculoso started painting tiles like Italian maiolica, with smooth colour transitions. He moved from geometry to figuration with the representation of human characters, in particular religious scenes. He also introduced the so-called grotesque ornaments that had just appeared in Italy when the Domus Aurea, the palace of Nero, was excavated in Rome in the 1490s. Thanks to Niculoso tile and tile murals started depicting religious scenes, mythological characters, floral ornaments and bouquets. After Seville, these new style and techniques moved to several places such as Talavera de la Reina (province of Toledo), and the regions of Valencia and Barcelona.

Other Italians potters and maiolica painters moved to Antwerp in Flanders around 1500. Thanks to them, this new ceramic technique rapidly developed in northern Europ: Holland, England and France (see: for the history of the Dutch tile).

The azulejos: a decorative art developed in Portugal

It is in Portugal that the use of tin-glazed tiles in architecture culminated. During the 17th and 18th century, palaces, churches and convents, public fountains, and complete façades were covered with tiles. Besides biblical scenes, tiles murals were depicting historical scenes such as royal weddings or famous battles, landscapes with monuments and characters, seascapes with boats, harbours and fishermen, elaborate bouquets, etc. As their Spanish predecessors, Portuguese azulejos were first polychromatic, with vivid colours. It is under the influence of blue and white Chinese porcelain that Portuguese azulejos became mostly blue and white in the early 18th century.

Ceramic tiles are still being used nowadays in Portugal. For many travellers, azulejo tiling is therefore one of the strongest elements of the Portuguese culture.


T iles (called azulejos ) are everywhere in Portugal. They decorate everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and train stations. They often portray scenes from the history of the country, show its most ravishing sights, or simply serve as street signs, nameplates, or house numbers.

Although they are not a Portuguese invention (the use of glazed tiles began in Egypt), they have been used more imaginatively and consistently in Portugal than in any other nation. They became an art form, and by the 18th century no other European country was producing as many tiles for such a variety of purposes and in so many different designs. Today, they still remain a very important part of the country's architecture.
After the Gothic period, most large buildings had extensive areas of flat plaster on their interior walls, which needed some form of decoration. These empty architectural spaces produced the art of the fresco in Italy, and in Portugal, the art of the azulejo.

The term azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj , meaning "polished stone." The Moors brought this term to the Iberian Peninsula, but despite their long presence, their influence in early Portuguese azulejos was actually introduced from Spain in the 15th century, well after the Christian reconquest. No tilework from the time of the Moorish occupation survives in Portugal.
King Manuel I was dazzled by the Alhambra in Granada (Spain), and decided to have his palace in Sintra decorated with the same rich ceramic tiles. The first ones were imported from Seville, and in accordance to Islamic law, they portrayed no human figures, only geometric patterns.

Gradually, the Portuguese painters weaned themselves off ornamental decoration, and employed human or animal figures in their designs. The dominant colors were blue, yellow, green and white, but in the 17th century, large, carpet-like tiles used just white and blue, the fashionable colors at the time of the Great Discoveries, influenced by the Ming Dynasty porcelain from China. They now portrayed Christian legends, historical events, and were not only decorative, but also protected against damp, heat and noise.

In Lisbon's Tile Museum, visitors can trace the development of tiles in Portugal from their beginnings to the present. Other outstanding displays are found in the city's São Vicente de Fora Monastery and Fronteira Palace, in Porto's São Bento Station, Almancil's São Lourenço Church, Buçaco's palace, Lamego's Nossa Senhora dos Remedios Church, and in several of Evora's churches and university.

Today, Portuguese tile factories also export to northern Europe, and azulejos by contemporary artists can be seen even in many of Lisbon's Metro stations. They are also tempting buys, especially in Lisbon, Sintra, and Algarve. Most visitors to Portugal end up buying a tile as a souvenir, which can be remarkably inexpensive.

The county and kingdom of Portugal to 1383

By the 10th century the county of Portugal (north of the Douro) was held by Mumadona Dias and her husband Hermenegildo Gonçalves and their descendants, one of whom was tutor and father-in-law to the Leonese ruler Alfonso V. However, when this dynasty was overthrown by the Navarrese-Castilian house of Sancho III Garcés (Sancho the Great), the western county lost its autonomy. Sancho’s son Ferdinand I of Castile reconquered Coimbra in 1064 but entrusted it to a Mozarabic governor. When the African Almoravids annexed Muslim Spain, Alfonso VI, who ruled Castile and León (1072–1109), provided for the defense of the west by calling on Henry, brother of Duke Eudes (Odo) of Burgundy, whom he married to his illegitimate daughter Teresa and made count of Portugal. Thus, from 1095 Henry and Teresa (who used the title of queen) ruled Portugal and Coimbra. Upon Alfonso VI’s death, his realms passed to his daughter Urraca, who was queen from 1109 to 1126, and her little son Alfonso (who became Alfonso VII upon Urraca’s death). Henry of Portugal sought power but had achieved little when he died in 1112, leaving Teresa with an infant son, Afonso Henriques (later Afonso I). Teresa’s intrigues with her Galician favourite, Fernando Peres of Trava, lost her the support of the Portuguese barons, and in 1128 followers of Afonso Henriques defeated her and drove her into exile.

Afonso Henriques became count of Portugal, and, although he was at first obliged to submit to Alfonso VII, his cousin, Afonso began to use the title of king, according to tradition following on his victory over the Muslims at Ourique on July 25, 1139 (though this may be more legend than history). In 1143 Alfonso VII accepted his cousin’s autonomy, but the title of king was formally conceded only in 1179, when Afonso Henriques placed Portugal under the direct protection of the Holy See, promising an annual tribute. Afonso had captured Santarém (March 1147) and Lisbon (October 1147), the latter with the aid of English, French, German, and Flemish Crusaders bound for Palestine. An English priest, Gilbert of Hastings, became the first bishop of the restored see of Lisbon.

Although the new Moroccan dynasty of the Almohads struck back (1179–84), the Portuguese frontier was firmly established on the Tagus when Afonso I died (December 6, 1185). The new military order, the Templars—including those of Calatrava (from c. 1156) and of Santiago (from c. 1170)—governed castles and territory on the frontier, and the Cistercians were responsible for the introduction of agriculture and architecture in central Portugal (Alcobaça).

Study in Portugal

Portugal is one of the most popular destinations for people looking to study abroad, especially exchange students. Portuguese universities are highly focused on research and collaborate with important research centres worldwide. During studies, international students have various opportunities to take on internships at local companies. You also have the chance to learn Portuguese, an international language spoken by over 250 million people worldwide. It can be an asset on any CV and will serve you well in your future career. While studying and living in Portugal, the Mediterranean climate will make you never want to leave hot summers and beautiful beaches — all you need to relax after big exams. If you’re a wanderer, Portugal’s natural beauty and unique sites are waiting to be explored. There are over 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among many other places worth visiting.

Azulejos: The Visual Art of Portugal - History

Museums are not just huge ancient relics reminding us of man's past presence but also privileged reminders of who we once were, who we now are and the image we wish to project for the future. Worthy of the cultural policy they have been given by town councils, the varied type of museums that we have to offer to both resident and foreign visitors is rich and diverse in scope. It provides an ample vision of natural and cultural heritage on a local scale. From art galleries to natural reserves, archaeological remains to the history of employment, a world full of details awaits you.

If your interest is in an museums, the Museu do Convento de Jesus in Setúbal is a must to visit. Valuable collections of national and foreign paintings, sculpture, jewellery and tiles dating from the fifteenth century to the present day may be viewed as well as periodical exhibitions of contemporary art. The gallery of visual art housed in the Casa de Bocage in Setúbal and the Galeria Municipal in Almada are other places open to the public where contemporary art is highlighted throughout the year.

If you are more interested in archaeology, your visit also starts in Setúbal where man's past is beautifully displayed with plenty of relics in the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnografia do Distrito de Setúbal right from the remote past. Other valuable archaeological museums can be found in Sesimbra ( Museu Municipal ), Alcácer ( Museu Municipal ) and in Sines ( Museu Arqueológico Municipal ), where artifacts of national and regional importance are displayed. There are also nuclei of considerable importance in the Municipal Museums of Santiago do Cacém, Alcochete and Almada (this last one is still in the organisational phase).

In our days, the increasing interest shown in ecology and preservation of the environment has meant that different types of museum have been founded for example eco-museums or natural parks, ethnographic and museums focusing on the History of Society. In this vein, the Eco-Museu Municipal do Seixal was founded with its several nuclei allowing its visitors to visit for example, a water mill (Corroios) or the construction of traditional sailing vessels (Núcleo Naval, Arrentela). The rich collection of ethnographical and archaeological items have made it possible for the Museu doTrabalho de Setúbal , to present varied themes connected towork. There is special emphasis on the canning industry, which has been of extreme importance in this area in the last 140 years. Other Municipal Museums, such as the one in Alcochete (important for its recently inaugurated salt exposé) and in Santiago do Cacém where the richness of its ethnography is displayed in an unusual fashion. In Sines, the Museu de Hisiória Natural , with its rare specimens of fauna both local and from Northern Europe awaits your visit. A visit to Barreiro presents you with a lesson in historical and industrial archaeology. The history of the workers rights movement can be traced by visits to factories in the north of the Costa Azul area which is still awaiting its museum facilities.


The rich archaeological past is not only to be found in the material displayed in the various museums. It is also found in inumerous archaeological digs scattered over the region. Some of interest to the general public, others of a more specific nature and some are still being investigated, covering a chronological arc from the Neolithic period to the end of the Roman occupation and the era of the Discoveries.

In the Quinta do Anjo , Palmela, ' grutas funerárias da Quinta do Anjo ' date back to the Neolithic age. The Chaolitic era is represented in the stations in Monte da Caparica (Almada), Monte da Tumba (Alcácer do Sal) Padrão and Castro da Rotura (both in Setúbal) where the relics are displayed in the local museums. Reference is made to a prolonged occupation which dates from the Iron Age to the Roman era in Alcácer and Setúbal..

The Roman colonization left important remains from the Porto dos Cacos (Alcochete) Remnants of their occupation on an industrial level can be found in the Baixo Sado area (salt fish factories and pottery factories). Sanctuaries, thermal springs and a hippodrome ( Miróbriga ).
The places which can be visited are in Setúbal (the ground floor of the Tourism Office of the Costa Azul), in Tróia and in the above-mentioned Miróbriga station. Remains from before the VI Century A.D. are rare and are nearly all on display in the various museums. In Palmela, excavations are in progress on ovens used for biscuit making in the XV and XVI centuries.

The monuments to be found on the Costa Azul trace the History of Architecture and Art in almost all sector from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The medieval castles in Palmela, Sesimbra, Alcácer, although restored or remodelled in the more recent past, take the visitor back in time to the XIII and the XIX centuries when the Ordem do Santiago was in power. The XIV century city walls of Setúbal were erected at great cost by the population. Significant fragmented remains trace a chain of walls around this important urban area of the Middle Ages. The medieval tower in Outão can be clearly distinguished as a relic from the year six hundred. The tower Torre Velha in Almada is, however, not in such good condition. From the time of King Filipe and the Restauration, we have several gems of military architectural importance. The Sáo Filipe fortress from the end of the XVI century which is in excellent condition the chain of city walls from the six hundreds surrounding the old fort which unfortunately no longer stands - both in Setúbal.

Other architecture from the XVI and XVIII centuries comprises the renaissance palaces of Bacalhoa and the Quinta das Torres in Azeitão and the palace belonging to the Duques de Aveiro in the same town. Other palaces and manor houses are scattered about among the villages of the area. Santiago do Cacém in the south also boasts a host of palaces and manor houses, as does the historical centre of Setúbal with its beautiful Cosa do Corpo Santo , former Costa Azul Tourism Office, lovely barroque construction with adjacent chapel, not forgetting the palace Paços do Concelho de Palmela which date from the XVII and XVIII centuries.

Religious architecture is more numerous and plays a significant role in what was constructed in the centuries before 1800 the late gothic of the lovely Santiago Church in Palmela , the church Matriz de Alcochete, the church Matriz de Santiago do Cacém , or the chapel Capela dos Cazal incorporated in the Matriz da Moira are all typical examples of this. In the church Matriz de Santiago one can contemplate embossed work from the Gothic period the Santiago Matamouros which was donated by Queen Isabel's lady in waiting, the Princess Vataça. In Moita, one can visit the only surviving gothic tomb with adjacent statue - the one of Fernão do Cazal who was a hero in the Battle of Toro.

The Manueline era is notably well represented in the Igreja e Convento de Jesus in Setúbal, the Matriz in Torrão and in the church doors of S Julião and the Convento de S. Joâo in Setúbal. Also in ihe chapel Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Salvas in Sines (Alentejo) which was built under orders from the distinguished navigator Vasco de Gama who was born there. Portals and windows from this period can be found all over the area in small numbers.

The finest examples of classic Renaissance style are found in Alcácer do Sal ( Capela das Onz Mil Virgens situated in the convent of Santo António ), in Palmela ( Igreja de São Pedro ), in Setúbal ( Catedral de Santa Marta da Graça ) in Montijo ( Matriz ) and in Alcochete ( Igrejas de Nosso Senhora da Vida and da Misericordia ). If you enjoy ancient art out of the museum environment, a visit to Sesimbra, to the Sala de Arte Sacra da Misencordia de Sesimbra is in order where an exceptionally beautiful panel by Gregório Lopes can be found. Ancient art can also be viewed in Santa Suzana near Alcácer or the Barroque sanctuary in Cabo Espichel, also the Misrincoria de Alcochete soon to be incorporated into the Confraria church museum.

Experience Portugal

Historic & Trendy Lisbon Walking Tour

Lisbon to Sintra and Cascais Small-Group Tour with Pena Park

Cruises, Sailing & Water Tours

Douro Valley Wine Tasting Tour, Lunch, River Cruise Option

Lisbon Small-Group Walking Tour with Food and Wine Tastings

Lisbon to Fatima, Nazare, and Obidos Small-Group Day Tour

Lisbon Highlights Guided Walking Tour with Tram Ride

Lisbon Small-Group Portuguese Food and Wine Tour

Transfers & Ground Transport

Lisbon Airport Private Arrival Transfer

Azulejos: The Visual Art of Portugal - History

These 3 websites provide much information about azulejos in general:

- Website of the National Museum of Azulejo in Lisbon:

- An history of azulejos by Wilhelm Joliet, a German art historian:

- An history of azulejos by the Camöes Institute:

These first 2 books provide information about azulejos in Portugal. The 2 following books discuss the broader topic of tiles in architecture: Islamic tiles, medieval floorings, Moorish ornaments, Spanish and Portuguese azulejos, Delft tiles, Italian majolica tiles, Moroccan zellige, Art nouveau ceramic panels, etc.

Chefs-d'œuvre du Musée national de l'Azulejo, Lisbonne

João Castel-Branco Pereira,
Ed. Chandeigne, Paris 2009

Portuguese decorative tiles, Azulejos

Rioletta Sabo, Jorge N. Falcato
photographies : Nicolas Lemonnier
Ed. Abbeville Press Publishers, New-York 1998

Watch the video: Painting Traditional Azulejos Tiles in Portugal (May 2022).