Despite being an Islamic heritage, the azulejos or portuguese tiles are part of the portuguese culture and is one of the many unique marks of Portugal history and the progress of the nation implementation.
From north to south, buildings and public spaces and gardens are ornamented with these artistic pieces where predominantly the bluish color, and not only, relating the historical aspects and the representative honors of a country rich in memory.
The word azulejo comes from the Arabic azzelij meaning small polished stone, a term used to determine the Byzantine mozaic.
Existing since the period of ancient Egypt and situated in the region of Mesopotamia, the spread on a large scale of Islamic expansion has made its use, reaching the countries of North Africa and Europe, more specifically the countries of the Mediterranean.
In the XIV century, the Moorish in the Iberian Peninsula – thanks to their contact with the Chinese porcelain through the silk route – gave way to the expansion of this ceramic production, leading to the origin of the term that currently designates the tile.
During this Islamic stay, production centers were created in Spain through Muslim craftsmans, with Seville being the largest of the productive ceramic centers.
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How azulejo appeared in Portugal
Between the XV century and the XVI century, the tile had a great impulse in the Portuguese territory.
Already with a long experience in the production of ceramics, it was first introduced through importations of Spanish origin, giving rise to the first own productions that later would be used in national buildings, also influencing the countries that were part of the old empire, such as Brazil, India and African countries.
This first introduction happens with the king D. Manuel I who, on a trip to Spain in 1498, faced with the beauty and the chromatic intensity in the compositions of the Moorish coverings, in the cities of Saragossa, Toledo and Seville.
Desiring a similar adornment for his residence in the National Palace of Sintra, he ordered in 1503 the importation of these Hispano-Moorish tiles, or Mudejar tile, with the intention of architecturally covering the walls, windows and doorways, highlighting the green tones and the shape of the armillary sphere, which will remain throughout Portuguese history as the symbol of naval expansion.
The portuguese style
Archaic and Islamic decorative traditions gave the style to the first Portuguese tiles, but it was the influence of other European artistic styles such as the Gothic and the nationalist characterization of the overseas culture and empire, which began to be evident and to confer a more varied, original and distinct artistic expression.
The first pottery workshops were born, fueled in large part by the orders of the nobility and the clergy, producing a variety of tiles through techniques such as majolica in the XVI century, patterned and carpet tile in the XVI and XVII centuries.
The influence of Islamic esthetics is eventually abandoned, giving rise to the importation of Italy from the Renaissance style and mannerism, characteristics that were fundamental to influence the artistic nature of the first national architectural pieces in the various palaces, gardens, convents and solars of the time.