The vivid and intricate blue-patterned tiles that adorn much of the historic architecture in Porto, Portugal are a unique feature sure to draw the eye when starting on Portugues routes of Camino de Santiago. These tiles, known as azulejos, also appear in small towns and villages along one’s route north in Portugal on Camino Portugues on the way to Santiago de Compostela.
History of Azulejos
Azulejos is a word that comes from the Arabic term for polished stones. Moorish influences on the Iberian peninsula resulted in a penchant for covering buildings with these tiles. Glazed tile was actually popular amongst Egyptians and was based off the look of Chinese porcelain, so while the Portuguese may have become known for these tiles, they are a bit of a global affair.
As old buildings experience decay throughout the country, their bright tiles often remain beautiful and strong, so the country of Portugal actually “banks” these tiles when buildings are being changed or destroyed. The same tiles are then issued to buildings that need a similar tile to replace a broken one. This does not necessarily hold true for some of the most well-known azulejo tile work, since detailed and unique scenes are often depicted on the more lavish and imposing buildings, as opposed to the simple designs on homes and shops.
Process of Creating Azulejos
Historically, azulejo tiles were made from clay, and they are glazed through the use of pewter salt liquid enamel that makes the tiles white. Using charcoal for stenciling since it will disappear in intense heat, artisans apply decorative patterns. Even now, when industrial processes can make the production of tile cheaper and easier, there are still many who hand-paint the glazed tiles for architectural uses and to sell as keepsakes of Portugal.
Tiles were generally painted using blues, with some green and yellow also being fashionable during the reign of King Manuel. Geometric designs were originally the most popular styles, given the inspiration of the Alhambra in Seville, with its Islamic influences requiring no human figures. However, over time, artisans began to add figures and some of the most large-scale tile work now depicts important moments in history in Portugal.
Well-Known Structures With Azulejo Tile Work
The Sé de Porto, or Porto Cathedral, boasts one of the most impressive displays of tile in Porto. The cloister is adorned with tall painted-tile scenes from the 18th century; they depict everything from the bucolic rural scenes to a memorable scene of ostrich hunting. This building in the heart of Porto represents a convergence of multiple architectural styles, from its Romanesque roots to the addition of touches like the Baroque roofs.
Equally impressive is Sao Bento station, which features a vestibule completely covered in historical moments imprinted onto Azulejo tile. For instance, portraiture of Egas Moniz presenting himself to Alfonso VII of Castile shows the important historical meetings that came to pass in Porto. Walking from panel to panel of larger-than-life figures and evocative imagery makes you feel like you have stepped into the most important moments in Portugal’s history. If you want a number, there are 20,000 of these tiles, all painted by Jorge Colaço, who was the most important painter of azulejos in the early 1900’s.
Azulejos, Portuguese Culture, and An Unforgettable Journey
Before you even begin the Camino or after your journey, a trip to Lisbon to see the National Museum of Tiles can give you even more insight into this culturally-rich art form that is also uniquely Portuguese. Knowing the meaning and history behind the art of Portugal makes the experience of the Camino de Santiago that much more personal and that much more meaningful.
A customized plan for your journey along the Camino de Santiago awaits; to experience the depth of Portuguese and Spanish culture on an active, incredible travel adventure, choose Adventure Camino. For more information, contact us to inquire about Coastal Portugues or Central Portugues Camino routes, both of them passing through a vibrant city of Porto.