On a visit to Lisbon, Portugal several years ago I was blown away by the buildings covered in tiles. I even bought a few antique tiles at Feira da Ladra, Lisbon’s large flea market.
During our recent trip to Faro on Portugal’s southern coast we again saw beautiful tile work on the buildings which I decided to photograph. I also looked into the background of why all of this amazing tile work existed. The tiles, or arazulejos (Arabic for “polished stone”), were introduced to the Iberian Peninsula in the 13th century by the Moors but they came to Portugal in the 15th century from Spain. Early tiles were only geometric patterns and did not include human figures according to Islamic law. Later tiles included elaborate scenes with human figures, animals and nature. Dominant colors over the years changed from blue, yellow and green to blue and white. In addition to their obvious decorative nature, the tiles also help insulate for cold, heat and noise.
One evening as Sam and I walked through the old town area of Faro, we came across an open door to a magical place, full of antique tiles and mosaics! There was no sign on the door, but I believe the name of it was Galeria da Se and it was on Rua da Porta Nova. Reproduction and antique tiles were on display, some individually and some in mosaics, along with antique doors and other architectural pieces. The owner was clearly a craftsman and restorer. He was working on a mosaic and the shop was also his workshop with piles of paperwork, tiles and bits and pieces, completely my zone! I inquired about the prices on some lovely flowery purple antique tiles and was told they were €15 each (about $16). He said that his oldest tiles from the 1700s were €60 a piece ($64).
The tiles of Portugal make buildings and public places amazing works of art accessible for everyone to see and appreciate.