Tiles painting workshop in Lisbon

Azulejos, the tiles in Lisbon

To get a taste of your stay in Lisbon, we want to reveal all the useful information about the tiles in the Portuguese capital. From their origin to their creation, we will also go into the local history with, as a bonus, the places to buy tiles in Lisbon (but also the places to avoid).

We will also talk about where to find the most beautiful tiles in Lisbon on the facades or once you walk in the door. But first, discover our workshop to paint on a tile, according to the rules of art... Enjoy your reading !

Etymology of azulejo, the Portuguese name for tile

It’s so easy to want to jump with both feet (especially for Spanish speakers) into an origin that is holding out its arms to us : azul, that is to say blue… hence the blue tile ?

Lisbon’s tile is the legacy of the Moors, who themselves imitated the « small polished stones » of the Romans. The Arabs referred to them as Al-zulaydj.

This is the true origin of the word. It may be a bit of a mouthful, but many Portuguese terms are actually of the same origin.

In Portugal, places are still marked by the passage of the Moors : Alfama, Alcantara, Algarve… We also find in more or less common terms :

Olives -> azeitonas (zeitounes)
Tailors -> alfaiate (al saia)
Sugar -> açucar (as-sukkar)

And the list goes on !

Tiles on the façade, typical of Lisbon and Portugal

Wanna discover the Lisbon ceramic tiles ? Try the tile making workshop !

VisitmyLisbon.com has established precious contacts with the tiles artists of Lisbon. Among our clients, we have had the Hermès saddlery team. Together, we made tiles in a 17th century palace. We also had a couple who wanted to make an entrance panel in one of the most famous azulejos factories in Lisbon.

We focus on craftsmanship. Here, Lisbon’s craftsmen have an amazing ability to make tiles. Knowing the city like the back of our hand, we have found a magnificent workshop to make your own tiles.

In a quiet environment, armed with patience and concentration, you will have the opportunity to paint historical tiles as well as invent your own design or coat of arms!

One thing is certain, we want you to be creative.

Discover our offer now ! Our advice when booking : choose a date at the beginning of your stay so that you can pick up your homemade tile on site. You can also have it delivered.

Where to buy tiles in Lisbon ?

If you don't feel like making a tile at all, there's nothing to stop you from contemplating them on the walls. Azulejos will make you compulsively want to have them for the home's interior setting ! So where can you buy tiles in Lisbon ?

Viúva Lamego (the best tiles in Lisbon since 19th century)

In 1849, the potter Antonio Da Costa Lamego created a tiles factory. Located in largo do Intendente, it was decorated in 1865 by Ferreira das Tabuletas, their famous artistic director. After Antonio’s death, his widow took over and the name was changed permanently to Viúva Lamego. The old factory is now a boutique and is still one of the most beautiful buildings in Lisbon.

Viúva Lamego has collaborated with some of the biggest names in architecture (Álvaro Siza, Rem Koolhaas), art (Joana Vasconcelos, Maria Keil, Manuel Cargaleiro) and street art (Monsieur André). 

Their specificity lies in the industrial production of tiles made by artists. In short, art produced on a large scale.

Address : Largo do Intendente Pina Manique. 
Open from Monday to Friday, between 8.30am and 5.30pm.

Viuva Lamego, the luxury tile factory in Lisbon

Sant'Anna (tiles factory in Lisbon since 19th century)

Sant’Anna is the oldest tiles factory in Lisbon. Having played an important role in the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake of 1755, the Sant’Anna factory is worth a visit. Especially since it is the largest and most central factory in Lisbon.

Address: Calçada Boa Hora 96 . 
Open from Monday to Friday, between 9.30am and 6.30pm.


Surrealejos is a rather unique concept. These are modern azulejos made by an Italian artist. As a graphic designer, he prints surrealist patterns on his tiles. The result is very impressive. Surrealejos is well known on the international art scene and exhibits all over the world.

Address: Calçada de Santo André 5 . 
Open from Monday to Saturday, between 11am and 6pm. Break between 13:00 and 14h00.

Cortiço e Netos (Lisbon vintage tiles)

The history of Cortiço e Netos is great. Cortiço’s grandfather, an earthenware dealer, owned a large warehouse full of tiles. He recently passed away and left all his stock to his grandchildren, who had the unusual idea of opening a minimalist shop to sell his grandfather’s pieces. Unique pieces, as most factories have since closed down. Today, it is a must for anyone with taste and in search of inspiration…

Address: Rua Maria Andrade 37D. 
Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm.

Azulejo panel in street art mode by Surrealejos

Leroy Merlin

It’s not a mistake but Leroy Merlin offers a nice choice of Portuguese industrial azulejos. For the faux antique, very industrial and calibrated, there is something for every taste and at affordable prices.

Address: Av. dos Cavaleiros 70, Carnaxide. 
Open every day.

D'Orey (antique tiles in Lisbon)

D’Orey is the place to be if you want to buy certified antique tiles. In the Rue do Alecrim, you will find several antique shops, probably the most prestigious in the Portuguese capital. Strolling between these masterpieces is a real pleasure for amateurs.

Address: Rua do Alecrim, 68. 
Open from Monday to Saturday, between 11am and 5pm. 

Lisbon tiles for sale : where not to buy !

If you are concerned about the conservation of Portuguese heritage, don’t buy tiles at the Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s famous flea market. 

Most of the pieces are stolen. In the city, it is not uncommon to see buildings completely disfigured at man’s height. The city’s heritage is falling apart. You should avoid these compulsive and thoughtless purchases. 

As for cheap souvenir shops, they abound in Lisbon. They offer : tiles wrapped in cork, fridge magnets, caps, hats, glasses, cups, Portuguese roosters… You won’t find real Portuguese tiles. I don’t think I’m wrong if I say that the production is of Asian origin.

The tiles in the souvenir shops in Lisbon are fake.

Lisbon tiles history

Did the Moors leave the Portuguese nation the legacy of the azulejos ? Yes and no... Although the origins are indeed Moorish, Portuguese tiles appeared well after the Catholic conquest of Portugal. Initially in Sintra, in the summer palace of King Manuel I, better known as the Palacio da vila or National Palace of Sintra.

At the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese king Manuel I was married to Isabella of Aragon, daughter of the Spanish king Ferdinand II. While visiting Andalusia, Manuel I fell in love with the tiles of Seville. He imported a large quantity in order to have a decoration in his own residence that would match his greatness. To impress his guests, the tiles collection in this palace was of great exuberance.

From this period onwards, tiles were increasingly present in the Portuguese capital. Until the 18th century, we will find tiles only to decorate the inside of palaces and convents.

It is only from the post-earthquake period that we will see azulejos appearing on the fronts. From noble houses to working-class villas, from neo-Arabic to art deco, through timeless blues, we will have a galvanizing revolution of this art. As beauty is obviously sought in most of the buildings, art is expressed here at every corner. It is a pity that today this is no longer the priority.

A walk trough the best tiles façades in Lisbon

In Lisbon, all tourists are pleasantly surprised by these typical faience facades. Out of the few hundred tours I have made, only one person has not found them to his liking.

In my opinion, in addition to being superb, they exude all the creativity and imagination required by this meticulous composition. Beyond the waterproofing properties, it is an aesthetic way to dress a building in its finery. And Lisbon is rejoicing ! The most exclusive districts such as Chiado or Lapa, but also the convents found in Bairro Alto or Marvila have a great number of tiles.

I propose a chronological selection of the most beautiful tiles of Lisbon and its surroundings. We will evoke the most famous panels of tiles, for their techniques or for their representation.

Façade covered with azulejos, the famous Portuguese tiles of Lisbon

Late 15th century, early 16th century: the first beginnings of Portuguese tiles.

As we have already mentioned, the Portuguese king Manuel I brought the first tiles back to Portugal after a honeymoon in Andalusia. He brought back a few examples for his palace in Sintra. These were Hispano-Arabic tiles. The predominant style of this palace is the sharp-edged style :

What is the technique used for the oldest Portuguese tiles ?

  1. The raw clay is placed in a mould with hollowed out lines, the tile then comes out in relief with the delimitations.
  2. Drying (slight shrinkage of the clay due to the loss of some moisture).
  3. First firing (more pronounced shrinkage of the tile due to total loss of moisture).
  4. Pigmentation through the application of different colours (pigments) obtained with oxides of 5 metals : copper = green, lead = very dark brown, titanium = white, iron = rust and the most famous cobalt = blue. It is a matter of filling in the areas separated by the famous ridges created in step number 1.
  5. Second firing of the glaze with pigments to seal the tile, which was still porous until then.
  6. Application on a wall.

This technique does not allow for any or very few rounded fantasies… (the armillary sphere, for example, the manueline symbol par excellence). Most of the tile is geometric and finally obeys the rules imposed by the Koran. Namely, no representation.

During the reign of Manuel I, the creation in 1509 of the Convent of Madre Deus should be noted, which will be, from 1965 onwards, the tiles museum in Lisbon.

Spanish-Arabic tile panel from the 16th century that you can buy at D'Orey in Lisbon

Late 16th century: catholic takeover of Portuguese tiles.

The end of the 16th century marks the beginning of the influence of the Catholic Church on Portuguese tiles.

Inspired by Italian majolica, the evolution of azulejos will be in the painting which is done before the second firing. On an enamel that absorbs the pigments, the firing seals the clay piece (tile or utility) and fixes the colours by making them brilliant. Another particularity of this technique is that the density of the colours can be adjusted, which allows for gradations. Finally, there are no more delimitations in relief : the support no longer has any barriers for artistic expression.

The most beautiful example that can still be seen today is in the Bairro Alto district in the Sao Roque church, preserved despite the earthquake of 1755. Meanwhile, in France, Bernard Palissy was burning his wooden furniture to discover the secret of Chinese tiles

Another style, quite to my taste, uses mosaics in a very crude way. It consists of squares, rectangles and triangles which, once assembled, form a very successful and, above all, inexpensive graphic whole. Many convents (especially kitchens) will be decorated with these sets, which are quick to create, and which will allow them to respond effectively to a growing demand.

Religious representation of the Holy Family on a panel of polychrome tiles

17th century: the great fashion for blue monochrome azulejos

History will play a major role in the application of new techniques

In 1640, Portugal ended the Spanish occupation and regained its independence. The reunification of the country and its empire was celebrated on tiles. The walls of gardens and palaces were adorned with scenes glorifying the victorious aristocracy.

During this century, the Dutch managed the spices and the route to them. From China, they brought back blue-tinted tile, which became highly prized.

In Portugal, orders poured in. Artists and workers, both Dutch and Italian, arrived in numbers to meet the demand. 

I have a particular affection for two fine examples from this period :

  1. Palace of the Marquis of Fronteira.
  2. Convento dos Cardaes.

Unfortunately, few tiles survived the earthquake of 1755. A new era began after this disaster…

Gentleman or fidalgo in Portuguese represented on a panel of blue monochrome tiles

18th century : the first façades covered with azulejos.

The 18th century was certainly the darkest period in Lisbon’s history. On 1st November 1755, the day before the Feast of the Dead, an earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale destroyed Lisbon’s most glorious buildings for ever. The tremors were followed by tsunamis and a fire that lasted for days.

The rebuilding of Lisbon would take 70 years. During this period, the first tiles will appear on the facades. The master builders praised their virtues against fire !

The enormous need for tiles for the rebuilding pushed the factories to innovate in the design :

  1. The first production lines appeared.
  2. Stencils, designed by hand, appeared in the workshops and made it possible to supply the material needs, particularly for the rebuilding of the Baixa district.
  3. Costs were substantially reduced. However, beauty was not forgotten and the patterns were not crude.

The results of this long-term work have beautified a battered city. Lisbon became the charming city we know today.

During the same period, the interiors were tinged with purplish tones tending towards brown, with integrated yellow and pompous friezes. Blues remained in fashion. The period costumes with their typical large buttoned sleeves are unmistakable.

There are plenty of places that bear witness to this period. You can discover them by pushing open the doors of the palaces. You will discover them during a private tour of Lisbon with us

Semi-industrial tiles on the façade in Lisbon

19th century : industrial and artistic revolution of the tiles.

The Peninsular War under the French Empire considerably reduced tiles production at the beginning of the 19th century. It was not until the return of the bourgeoisie who had made their fortune in Brazil and the return of political stability (1833) that production increased again.

Many craftsmen or shops were then to adorn themselves with beautiful, colourful and expressive azulejo fronts to highlight the characteristics of the shop.

The tiles of this century are elegant and imposing. In Lisbon, two examples stand out : the famous Casa Ferreira das Tabuletas in Chiado and the Monaco tobacco shop on Rossio.

My favourite factory was founded in 1849 : Viuva Lamego. Its artistic director was Luis Ferreira das Tabuletas himself.

It was also during this period that a Bernard Palissy enthusiast made his name : Raphaël Bordallo Pinheiro. He was responsible for the decoration of the Tabacaria Monaco. Jorge Colaço was more active in the north (Sao Bento station in Porto) but also responsible for beautiful works in Portugal and England (Buçaco Palace, Windsor Palace…).

Colaço’s career continued with Art Nouveau at the beginning of the 20th century.

Tiles on the façade by the artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro

20th century : tiles in the service of art nouveau and art deco.

Jose Antonio Jorge Pinto is my favourite ceramist as he is one of the greatest artists around Portuguese art nouveau. His works are scattered and only a fan of art nouveau will be able to locate them. I am one of them out of pure curiosity. Jorge Colaço is just as good.

Note however that most of the « art nouveau » azulejos do not cover the facades but are in friezes. The most magnificent example is the 1908 hotel, at largo intendente Pina Manique. They can also be found in interior decoration (e.g. the Camponesa restaurant).

In the 30s and 40s, the Portuguese industry was strongly affected by Spanish production. Larger and cheaper, they broke the market. Portuguese tiles, although much more aesthetic, were shunned by consumers.

The recovery will take place when the metro is set up. Over the decades, it was decorated by the greatest Portuguese artists : Maria Keil, Sá Nogueira. Later : Julio Pomar, Eduardo Nery, Manuel Cargaleiro, etc.

tiles from a frieze in Hotel 1908, typical art nouveau in Lisbon

21st century : a new wind after the 2008 crisis.

The Lisbon metro has continued to expand, but also to undergo a facelift with azulejos ! Some new stations have been added : Terreiro do Paço, Amadora Este, Santa Apolónia and Reboleira.

With the economic recovery, some buildings emerged with architectural prowess. They all had one thing in common : the use of tiles on their facades. In Porto in particular, two Pritzker Prize-winning architects wanted to use tiles in their projects.

Three-dimensional tiles are the trend of the 21st century. You can find them at Viuva Lamego, for example. The results are breathtaking!

Even in Lisbon, street artists are using it. Examples include the Barcelos rooster in tile by Joana Vasconcelos, the incredible wall in the Santa Clara garden by the Franco-Portuguese Mr André.

Finally, the real estate boom in Portugal has simply revived the Portuguese tiles industry…

Interior tiles panels with 3-dimensional pieces. Very fashionable in the 21st century

As you have just seen, this age-old art form still inspires artists, architects and lovers of beauty.

Enjoy the sumptuous reflections they produce in Lisbon. Photographers will be delighted. Enjoy discovering the city’s tiles ! And for the more curious, if you want to discover the secret tiles, you know you can count on us for a tailor-made private tour !

Book a workshop in 2 steps :

Tile painting class

Number of people :

Minimum age required : 4 years old

The workshop in few words :

Flat rate per person: 40,00 €

The workshop lasts ± 3 hours. It is divided into 3 parts : a historical introduction, followed by the painting of a traditional Portuguese tile, and then a second tile (traditional or free style). The workshop is located near the Museum of Azulejos. The tiles are fired the same evening and available the next morning. It is possible to have the tiles delivered for an extra charge (to be determined on site). This is not a private workshop. Flat price per person : 40 €. Paiement on site in cash.

Total cost of the workshop :

Booking request free of charge. Do you have a question? If you have the slightest doubt, do not hesitate to consult our FAQ, as well as our general terms and conditions of sale.

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