The Eccentric Azulejo (Tile) Museum in Lisbon

Museum of the Month is a series where I share my experiences of visiting unique and often strange museums from around the world. My aim is to rebuff the notion that museums are boring!

Tile Museum in Lisbon

 

I know what you’re probably thinking… how can there be a whole museum dedicated to tiles? Isn’t it the case that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all?

Well, no, it’s not actually.

After seeing the Tile Museum crop up on Trip Advisor as one of Lisbon’s hidden gems, I knew I had to go for myself. Also, when I say ‘crop up’ I’m being somewhat modest here; impressively the Tile Museum pulls in at #10 out of 211 things to do in Lisbon. That’s already quite surprising for somewhere that potentially sounds like a complete bore fest – come on, the ‘Tile Museum’ isn’t exactly the type of thing you hear about which instantly makes you drop everything you’re doing.

Although the idea of a Tile Museum might sound like an odd and incredibly niche museum to have in any city it makes perfect sense in Lisbon. This is because (and as you might already know) many of the buildings in Lisbon are decorated with exquisitely colourful and intricate tiles which are also known as azulejos.

Tiled buildings in Lisbon, Portugal

Tiled buildings in Lisbon The word azulejo derives from the Arabic word az-zulayj meaning “polished stone” and it showcases the influence of the Moors who occupied Lisbon and large areas of Portugal from 711 until 1179. Some of these azulejos are so beautiful they deserve to belong in a gallery, and this brings me back to the Tile Museum – see it makes perfect sense.

One of the special things about visiting the Azulejo Museum is that it’s the only one of its kind in the world, furthermore unravelling 500 years of Portuguese history and craftsmanship.

Azulejo, the tile museum in Lisbon

Any visitor to this museum should really try and dedicate a good 2-3 hours in order to see everything, and depending on how enthralled you get it’s very easy to spend a lot longer due to the sheer size of the place and information available. Interestingly the museum is housed in an old convent.

Inside Lisbon's Tile Museum

I would say there are three main areas to the museum, and these are:

1: The tile cafe
2: The church and weird chapel/shrine
3: The exhibition rooms

The café is such a lovely place to sit down and relax after hours of sightseeing, and fittingly there are lots of pretty tiles relating to food and cooking for you to admire. When I was sitting down sipping my hot chocolate I was thinking about how nice it would be to own a kitchen filled with the same type of narrative tiles. Clara and I sat down for a while in the café before walking around the museum but equally, it would be a nice place to finish up.

Azulejo, Tile Museum in Lisbon

Tile Cafe in Lisbon

The baroque style church is a visual feast of lavish gilt, fresco and tiles depicting the life of the Virgin and Christ. And not to be out-done is the chapel on the 1st floor which contains some very peculiar shrines. As you can imagine, seeing all the gold and elaborate woodwork was quite a shock after wandering around the simple rooms of the convent.

Church in Tile Museum, Lisbon

Shrine in the Tile Museum in Lisbon

Shrine in museu Azulejo, Lisbon

Tile Museum

You’ll find lots of rooms paying homage to azulejos but the most famous can be found on the second floor, it contains a huge panoramic panel beautifully capturing the city before the earthquake struck in 1755. The display also highlights prominent features of the city which can act as a handy overview if you’re still unsure of where to go and see next. The rest of the room has been left quite bare and is not located in the original convent to benefit from the interesting and original architecture so I didn’t wait around once I viewed the panoramic panel.

Tile panoramic of Lisbon

Tiles in Lisbon, Museum

As well as learning about the history of azulejos, I learnt how they are created and the techniques and materials used. It was really interesting to see how their styles and fashions changed over different periods. I especially loved the tiles which depicted specific scenes, such as a young boy getting an injection in his bottom! I hunted for more tiles in the same vein but I had no luck.

Tiles Museum in Lisbon, Portugal

However, there were still lots of funny ones….

Azulejo, tile museum in Lisbon

Museu Azulejo, Tile Museum in Lisbon

Tile Museum in Lisbon

And some incredibly pretty ones….

National Museum of Azulejos, Lisbon

Azulejo Museum, Lisbon

If you were to ask me my favourite part of the museum, I would probably say I enjoyed looking at the contemporary tiles the most. I like what they symbolise, these tiles clearly demonstrate that the azulejo tradition is very much being kept alive, and that’s certainly something to celebrate!

General Information

How to get there: It’s slightly out of the centre so the easiest way to get there is by catching either the 759 or 794 bus from central. The nearest train station is Santa Apolonia which would take approximately 20 minutes to walk.
Admission Fee: Adult 5 Euros, children: Free
Opening Times: 2-6pm Tue, 10am-6pm Wed-Sun
Website: www.museudoazulejo.pt

 Which tile is your favourite?

Comments

  1. says

    How is it I spent a week in Lisbon admiring all the tile buildings and yet missed out on this fab museum?! A hidden gem indeed! Did you go to the Coach Museum out near Belem? That one may have been my favorite. And I totally agree that museums are anything but boring! :-)

    • says

      Hi Heather! Oh a week in Lisbon must have been bliss! But now you have another reason to return ;-) Yes, I went to the Coach Museum too – now that is niche, as well as being extremely decadent! I’m sure it deserves to feature in Museum of the Month at some point!

  2. says

    Such an interesting entry! The tiles decorations were always an integral part of southern romance countries architecture for me but I never really paid more attention to it and now I know more about them :) In fact arabian influence on the Iberian Peninsula is very strong, especially in the southern Spain which was left by Moors no sooner than the very end of 15th century, and I really hope to explore this part of Europe properly one day.

    And they look like perfect kitchen decoration indeed, I have to keep that in mind ;)

    • says

      It’s amazing how tiles can reveal so much about history in relation to invasions, influences, and aesthetics! I didn’t know the Moors reigned over Portugal and Spain for so long until I went to the museum, and its fascinating to see how their influence can be evidenced on the buildings after hundreds of years. I hope to explore this part of Europe further too Ola.

  3. Maggie Woodward says

    Thanks for this timely post. I arrive in Lisbon on 30 April to commence walking the camino de Santiago de Compostela, and this museum was already on my list of things to do. It has now been pushed to the top of the list. I shall be posting from the camino – all 615 km! Maggie

    • says

      Wow, good luck with your pilgrim Maggie! I would love to know how long you have planned to do all 615 km?! Also, enjoy Lisbon and the Tile Museum, I’m happy to see it’s been pushed further up your list ;-)

  4. Pat says

    We’ve had a couple of trips to Lisbon from our apartment in Tavira. I must say that the Tile Museum was my favourite place of all that we visited. Such a surprise, especially the church/chapel inside. I love the azulejos in Tavira and have taken photographs of most of those I have spotted there. I was in azulejo heaven in Lisbon <3

    • says

      Hi Pat, it must be lovely to have an apartment in Tavira, what a beautiful place to have a relaxing getaway! I’m pleased to read that you loved the Tile Museum too, it’s great confirmation for anyone else reading this and debating whether or not to go!

      I bet you have some fantastic azulejo photos – feel free to share them with me. And yes… Lisbon is ‘azulejo heaven’ haha!

  5. says

    I am flying to Lisbon in less than 3 months where I will be spending a few days with my mom. She is a history teacher and lover of museums, local churches and art galleries. I will definitely take her there and she will be over the moon. Thanks sweetie for sharing. One question – any cool places not to miss when in Lisbon and did you do a food tour? Thanks for your help :-).

    • says

      How exciting Agness! You’re going to love Lisbon, and if your mum is a history teacher and all round lover of museums, galleries and churches then she’s going to be in her mecca! I’m afraid I didn’t do a food tour, but the food is exceptionally tasty in Lisbon so I can imagine you’ll be in for a treat if you do!

      You definitely can’t miss going to belem with your mum, it’s very historic with many beautiful buildings and monuments including Jerónimos Monastery which is on UNESCO’s World Hertiage list. In Belem you also can’t miss Berardo Museum of Modern Art – it’s truly exceptional.

      If you’re looking for something quirkier than head inside the Coaches Museum (also in Belem located just before the Monastery) or the Tile Museum.

      My favourite area of central Lisbon was the medieval quarter of Alfama where you’ll discover lots of winding cobbled streets and alleyways filled with intricate tiles. If you walk up the hill you’ll get a stunning panoramic view of the city too. In contrast is Baixa which has really wide streets and big squares with huge monuments such as Praca do Comerico (a definite Must-Do!).

      Sintra is of course not to be missed, but there’s so much to see that I advise choosing what you want to see beforehand to avoid missing out if you loose track of time. I would definitely recommend Pena National Palace and Quinta da Regaleira.

      Lastly, stroll along the waterfront and enjoy, looking forwarding to reading your posts already!

      • says

        Great tips!
        You’re a star! Thank you sweetheart. I’ll definitely visit Belem and we’re going for a food tour as well :).

  6. says

    I loved it, it was an amazing place full of all sorts of beautiful tiles.
    I hear that some old fallen tiles are being sold at a high price…
    I got dizzy looking at so many beautiful old tiles at the Azulejo Museum. Too bad that the ones sold for travelers as “souvenirs” are so much more simpler… to say it mildly.

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