Azulejos– the Colors of Portugal
In some cities, great art is hidden away in its museums and cathedrals. But In Lisbon, great art is out in the open for all to enjoy– just walk through Lisbon’s winding streets and look all around you at the facades of colorfully tiled buildings. Painted and glazed ceramic tiles, known as “azulejos” in Portugal, have been produced here for over five centuries.
Azulejo designs have been influenced by different cultures over the years, starting with the Moors in the 15th century then continuing with the Dutch, Spanish and Brazilians, among others. For a detailed history of azulejo styles and influences, check out this comprehensive Wikipedia article.
Just outside the Central Barrio Alto lies the Rua Dom Pedro V, a steep street known for its antique shops, boutiques and galleries. Near the top of the hill you’ll find Solar, one of the best azulejo dealers in Lisbon. Solar can be confusing to navigate– as you walk through the store, you’ll find rickety staircases leading down to a maze of low-ceilinged, cubbyhole rooms. If you are an expert in antique tiles, you don’t need my shopping tips. But for the casual shopper who just wants to bring a great souvenir home, here are my recommendations for azulejos shopping at Solar:
- Solar carries both new and antique azulejos. If you’re looking for a matching group of mint condition azulejos for a project, you are better off going with new (unless you are prepared to spend a small fortune on matching antique tiles).
- One-off antique azulejos here are the best bargain. If you need more than one tile look for similar coordinating azulejos (more cost-effective than an exact match).
- Solar stacks the azulejos by both century and condition, so you might be able to buy a roughed-up 17th century azulejo for the same price as a better condition 19th century azulejo. If cost is an issue, you can decide which factor is most important to you– age or condition.
- If you don’t mind an imperfect azulejos, it’s worthwhile to hunt through the more damaged piles of 17th century tiles for the chance to buy a piece of history at a bargain price.
My 17th century azulejo (60 euros, plucked from the roughed-up stacks) is such an intense blue that it’s hard to believe it’s already survived nearly 400 years. Solar will bubble wrap your azulejos purchases and provide a signed certificate of authenticity. I accidentally dropped my bag with my bubble-wrapped azulejo inside, but was relieved to find it unharmed. Considering the azulejo had already survived 400 years and a major earthquake, a three-foot drop was nothing to worry about. Safe at home now, my Portuguese azulejos brightens a bare spot in my bookcase, but it could also make a great trivet in the kitchen.
Have you bought azulejos in Portugal? Tell us about it in the comment below!
Want to read more Portugal posts? Read about our favorite hat shop in Lisbon here
Souvenir Shopping in Lisbon, Portugal Details:
Solar, Rua D. Pedro V 70 1250-094 Lisbon, Portugal
All Photos by Souvenir Finder, copyright 2013 all rights reserved and may not be reused without express permission.