You can’t spend a few days around Porto without noticing the unique Portuguese architectural characteristics that separate Portugal from its neighbors. This little photo excursion will give you an idea of how it all fits together. I hope it will work to make you want to take a vacation in Porto.
Blue Tiles — Azulejos
Azulejos is a term used for the ubiquitous painted, tin-glazed, ceramic tiles you see in Portugal, affixed to walls, floors and even ceilings. They come from the Moorish traditions in Spain; king Manuel I brought some back after a visit to Seville in 1503.
Large, undecorated plaster areas of buildings were ripe for the tile treatment. It preserved the walls and brought coolness to the interior.
Perhaps the most famous use of tiles is found inside the São Bento Station in downtown Porto. The 20 thousand tiles together depict the history of Portugal. They are the work of Jorge Colaço, the most important azulejo painter of the time. The first tile was set in 1905.
Art Deco Tile Work
Portugal’s iconic tiles have weathered changes in art periods. Hardly anyone with a camera who walks down the street and sees this shop can walk away without a picture of it:
The Proto-Baroque and the Modern
The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is an 18th-century church whose facade is covered in nearly 11,000 azulejo tiles created by the artist Jorge Colaço. The tile work is relatively new: 1932, but the interior is Portuguese proto-Baroque and I rather like it. It seems to me to be warm and welcoming, unlike some churches I’ve visited.
The church sits on a hill with in front of a big piazza favored by skateboarders and trick cyclists. It is in the heart of Porto.
Right in front of the piazza, Porto’s historic trams running along historic tram lines 18 and 22 have a stop. While trams in Porto have largely disappeared, three lines 1, 18 and 22 continue to run with historic cars from the 20s and 30s, the rest of the trams replaced by modern buses. A tram ticket costs 2.5 euro these days. See Porto Tram Tours for more information.
Lisbon has a tile museum you may wish to visit.