The Blue Tiles of Porto, Part One

We saw them everywhere we looked when we visited Lisbon in Portugal and Granada in Spain in 2010 and we saw them again when we visited Porto last Spring: blue and white tiles called azulejos on the walls of churches, palaces and even ordinary homes. In this post we’ll take a look at some of these tiles that adorn the facades of Porto’s most prominent churches.

Saint Anthony’s Church of the Gatherers (Igreja de Santo Antonio Congregados) was built in the 17th century. The tiles tell the story of St Anthony, a Franciscan priest from Portugal who died in Padua, Italy in 1231 at the age of 36 and was canonized less than a year later.

Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.

Close-up of Saint Anthony’s Church. Catholics consider St Anthony the patron of lost things.

Arabs from North Africa admired the mosaics used in Roman architecture and began to use tin-glazed ceramic tiles to cover their walls in a similar manner. Then they conquered Spain and brought their tiles with them. Because the Moslem religion forbids depicting humans and animals these tiles only contained patterns. Then Christian artists added human figures and eventually historical scenes to the tiles. King Manuel of Portugal visited Seville in 1503 and was fascinated with the tiles he saw there. Soon azulejos began to appear all over Lisbon and it wasn’t long until Porto, too, joined the throng. By the 1700s azulejos were firmly integrated into Portuguese culture.

Azulejos on the north wall of the Se Cathedral date from the 18th century.

The Church of Saint Ildefonso was constructed in the 18th century. 11,000 tiles created by Jorge Colaco were added to the façade in 1932. Some of the scenes are about the life of St Ildefonso while others are stories from the Gospels.

The side wall of Igreja do Carmo depicting the Brown Scapular imposition on Mount Carmel. The tiles were designed in 1912 by Silvestro Silvestri.

We’ll look at some more of these tiles in my next posting.


About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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16 Responses to The Blue Tiles of Porto, Part One

  1. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Half parts strange and beautiful to me. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    The blue and white tiles do much to enhance the beauty of the building in Porto. I wonder if they are still being manufactured or if another great craft has succumbed to our modern era. Great post!

    • The tiles are alive and well, Peter! There are tile stores in Porto where you can buy your own. Back in the day they were mostly hand-made but today they are stamped by machines. There’s a renaissance of tiles going on in the metro stations of Lisbon. The stations of 50 years ago feature mostly tiles of geometric patterns but the latest ones are way out! There’s one that features American pop art! Artists in Italy and the Netherlands contributed to the fame of Portuguese azulejos which then spread to the New World, especially Brazil and Mexico

      • Peter Klopp says:

        Thank you for the most informative reply to my question! It is good to hear that tiles are ‘in’ and doing well not just in Portugal. Very much appreciated!

  3. mvschulze says:

    Fascinating history of the tiles!!! And great photos. M:-)

  4. kzmcb says:

    Amazing photos that capture the extraordinary feature of those tiles.

  5. Amy says:

    Magnificent! Beautifully captured!

  6. Blend with the blue sky.this is wonderful.

  7. One Sister says:

    Beautiful pictures, and informative article, thanks for sharing! Have you visited North Africa? Lots of them there as well!

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