Earthenware Tiles of Portugal

From traditional to contemporary - many types of tiles may be found in Portugal. This page takes a quick look at some of the tiles of the central coastal area.

Tiles have been used architecturally in Portugal since the 15th century. Below are a few examples of tiled interior walls.

University Chapel, Coimbra

17th and 18th century tiled interior of Santo Quintino, Sobral de Monte Agraço

Factory Chapel, Vista Alegre


Tiles are popular for roofing and for decorating and protecting exterior walls.

Town Hall, Cascais

Santa Lucia, Lisbon

São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon

Palácio Fronteira, Lisbon

Palácio da Pena, Sintra


Tile history is the focus of the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon. Their web page includes an overview of the fabulous collection and contact information. These images are from the Museu. The first arista and cuerda seca tiles were imported from Seville.

Alicatado tiles are glazed, fired, cut into geometric shapes with pliers (alicates), filed smooth, then set in place.

Clay is pressed into or onto arista molds to make relief tiles. The wood determines the thickness of the tile in front.

Cuerda seca (dry cord) developed in the 15th century. Dark lines (linseed oil mixed with manganese) are painted onto a bisqued (fired) tile to separate the glazes during firing. 

A metal pattern is placed on a slab of clay, then the edges are cut off with a knife inclined slightly inwards to make a faience / majolica tile. The tile is covered with tin glaze, which will create a white background and allow other glazes to be painted on without running together. A design is traced onto paper, then the lines are pricked with a pin. The paper pattern is laid on the tile and pounced with a bag of powdered charcoal to transfer the motif. Excess charcoal or mistakes are removed with a rabbit's tail. The colored glazes are painted onto the tile, then the tile is fired to 1796 °F/ 980 °C. 

There are several ways to stack tiles in the kiln for glaze firing.

Old kiln in Lisbon

Patio with 17th century tile revetment at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo.


The Escola Secundária Artistíca António Arroio in Lisbon includes tile design in its decorative arts curricula. Students paint their own designs onto tiles, then fire them in electric kilns.

Silva Foundation Workshops, Lisbon, Portugal
Ceramics of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal   
Tiles and Ceramics of Talavera de la Reina, Spain   
Tiles and Ceramics of Seville, Spain  
Earthenware Ceramics of Ubeda, Spain  
Monje Ceramics of Lora del Rio, Spain
Capelo of Guanajuato, Mexico
Angelica Escarcega Rodriguez of Guanajuato, Mexico
José Luis Méndez Ortega of Guanajuato, Mexico
Guevara Ceramics of Guanajuato, Mexico
Tecpatl Ceramics of Guanajuato, Mexico
Maya Reproductions of the Yucatan
Pottery of Western Cameroon
Traditional Dunzi Production in Yaoli, China
Porcelain production in Jingdezhen, China
Roof Tiles in Bali, Indonesia  
History of Mayolica in Spain and Mexico

Web page, photographs, and text by Carol Ventura in 2005. Please look at Carol's home page to see more about crafts around the world.