Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I encountered beautiful tile art everywhere in Lisbon, Portugal—in the streets and pedestrian walkways, on the interiors and exteriors of buildings, in fountains, at railway stations…literally, everywhere. The designs draw on ancient art, contemporary design and everything in between. For a tile enthusiast like me it was an amazing experience. Please enjoy my impressions of the pavement and building tile art I experienced in my travels.

Pavement Art

Known as calcada Portuguese pavement art is everywhere in Lisbon and throughout Portugal. The art form is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia. Later it was brought to Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, Portugal is the centerpiece of the art form. Rocks and various locally obtained stone materials were used in ancient times – and still today. In fact, many of the original techniques are still in use, too. Part craft and part arduous labor, calcada involves long hours of laying stones from a prone position for low pay. The results, while picturesque, can also be hazardous (slippery when wet), prone to breaking up, and costly and time-intensive to repair. Sadly, this may be a dying art, giving us all the more reason to treasure and savor it now.

See more Lisbon pavement art in my Facebook Album.

Tile Art on Buildings

The exteriors of buildings in Lisbon Portugal are covered with tiles known as Azulejos, an Arabic word meaning “polished stone”.  They were introduced to Portuguese artisans by Spanish Moorish invaders early in the 15th century. The Moors, in turn, learned the craft from the Persians. The geometric designs featuring inter-locking, lace-like patterns and floral motifs are strongly influenced by Moorish art. Portugal also readily adapted the Moorish taste for completely covering wall and floor surfaces with decorations in the tradition of “horror cacui” or fear of empty spaces. In modern times there is no other country that has embraced tile to the extent that Portugal has. It was such a privilege to be there and experience it in person. Following are some of my photos and impressions…

This fountain was created for the site of the World’s Fair Expo. The water flowing over the individual colored tiles made some amazing patterns.

I love the way this doorway is framed in tile that blends with the door color and the unique terra cotta archway over the door. The design is composed of a combination of striped tiles tipped diagonally and a geometric star pattern.

The façade of this tile factory (above) is from the 1800's. The blue and white patterns show a lot of Dutch influence because many tile artisans migrated to Portugal from Holland. In turn, both Dutch and Portuguese tile artisans were greatly influenced by Chinese porcelains. 

The wall pattern in this courtyard contains floral motifs, however, the overall design looks geometric. The primary border is a very traditional geometric pattern. The blue and white background at the base looks more free form in design—almost "sponged."

This tile exterior is quite elaborate with many colors introduced throughout the patterns: yellow, blue, green, pink, and white. I especially appreciate how the stone border around the door opening takes several jogs and the tile follows the jog pattern. The border tile truly accentuates this French-style door frame!

Why does this wall remind me of Amish quilt patterns? With bold geometrics and vivid use of color this pattern also has the extra diamonds that are created by the corners of the four tiles coming together. Note the goofy repair job in the border around the door’s upper left corner, vertical side. 

Here my favorite lime green color is mixed with a teal green, an unusual combination which I like! Again, the pattern becomes more intricate with the edges of all the tiles creating another pattern to make diagonal stripes across the entire wall. 

This wall looks modern to me... however, it was applied to a very old building. I did not see subway style tile (popularized by the New York subway system, early 1900's) very often. I especially like the beveled edges of the individual tiles. The green textured spiral border is fantastic. 

This was the front of a restaurant. This pattern almost looks Art Nouveau style. The wood grid pattern around each tile creates a stained glass window look.

Look at this great color combination, so popular for today, aqua and teal!

These tiles and colors are good examples of Moorish influences. 

This tiled wall at Sintra, at the World Heritage Site in Portugal, is another example of Moorish influences.

The photo on the right is a close up of the tile that surrounds the arch. 

This tiled wall was also located in Sintra at the Palacio National de Sintra. According to National Geographic Traveler, Portugal, by Fiona Dunlap: "It is Portugal's oldest palace which spans more than 8 centuries of history from it's Moorish origins until the end of the monarchy in 1910. 

From Azulejos, Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon: "This pattern is called enxaquetados which is a linguistic archasim associated with checkered compositions: geometric ceramic pieces obtained mainly through the alicatado process, the forms being cut from previously baked monochrome (blue, green, white) ceramic plaques. This is a composition that was practiced in the late 1600's." 

I first saw one of my favorite patterns in the Azulejos Museum. Seeing it later at the Palacio National de Sintra was a fantastic bonus. 

From Azulejos, Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon

"The star motif shown here seems to be a stylized version of the original Islamic models, as initially the themes that were known with this configuration, included knots, referring to the idea of the firmament as an immense carpet on which the stars are embroidered." 

I love the strong diagonal line of this beautiful tile as it follows the upward “movement” of the steps. 

Portuguese azulejos artisans left no surface undecorated for our viewing pleasure. I know they inspired me, and their influences will no doubt turn up in my future designs. I hope my photos and impressions have inspired you too!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This pattern is called enxaquetados which is a linguistic archasim associated with checkered compositions: geometric ceramic pieces obtained mainly through the alicatado process, the forms being cut from previously baked monochrome (blue, green, white) ceramic plaques

natural stone pavers