If you say Lisbon, you say old streets lined with tile-fronted houses. A charming street view I just can’t get enough of, love that nostalgic feeling. Makes me think about the prosperity of the city when they (re) built it. Therefore, the inevitable question pops up after my very first visit to the National Tile Museum – Museu Nacional do Azulejos: why didn’t we make this tile stop before?
Despite the fact that my sweet friend N. lives in Lisbon for almost five years, this was also her first visit. Obrigada, for dragging me along. I will now urge other to do so. You’ve been warned!
National Tile Museum in a convent
What better location? We are as impressed by the collections as by the beautiful housing of the National Tile Museum, the splendid ancient Convent of Madre Deus. The tile collections are displayed throughout the buildings, church, cloisters – with original tile walls – and courtyards.
Little has changed over the years and although some renovation is needed, the way it is today also contributes to the calm and serene atmosphere. Since the entrance fee is only 5 euro, it might take a while before sufficient funds are raised for further renovation.
Built in 1509 at the orders of queen Leonor, most of the initial 16th century construction was destroyed during the big earthquake in Lisbon of 1755.
Panorama of Lisbon in tiles
The National Tile Museum is located slightly outside the obvious cultural attractions of my beloved Lisbon. Take the metro to Santa Apolónia station and then a short walk through a quiet neighbourhood. With tile-fronted houses.
The buildings can best be described as a mix of 17th and 18th architecture with an opulent baroque church as high point. To call it over the top is still an understatement, for me it equals a religious, megalomaniac explosion. Just turn left at the end of the cloister and see for yourself, no further spoilers.
On the top floor you’ll find the longest Portuguese tile panel (36 meters!) with The Panorama of Lisbon. This blue piece is unique because it shows Lisbon before the big earthquake of 1755.
Founded in 1980, the National Tile Museum takes you on a timeline trip along the national Azulejos – from the luxurious 15th century until contemporary artists today. These decorative tiles are a strong symbol of the Portuguese culture. Since the Moors – inhabitants of Portugal and Spain in those days – introduced the art of tile making, the Islamic influences can be found in the geometrical designs and colors. The word azulejo comes from the Arabic al zuleycha which means small polished stone.
The unique tile collection, as well as the gorgeous building and the restaurant with large botanical courtyard, enhance each other and make this the perfect destination for Tile Lovers. Or Historic Building Lovers. Or Portuguese Food Lovers. Or all of the above.