What a bunch of squares
Amongst the most amazing things here
in Lisbon are the "azulejos." It seems
that almost every surface in this city is
clad in massive expanses of beautiful
tiles. If nothing else they are uniquely
Portuguese as I've never seen so much
tile work en masse except deep within
the Lincoln Tunnel. However these are
much more than perfunctory porcelain.
They break the grid of preconceived
notions. Both Frank and I have fallen
in love with them. So much so that all
we seem to want to do is tile one on...
Obviously we had to immediately visit the
Museo Nacional de Azulejos. Located in
the former convent of Madre Deus built
in 1509 it's filled with a treasure trove of
Portuguese tiles. As we wandered through
room after room of these stunning beauties
we got more and more excited. However
the eighteenth century baroque chapel of
Santo Antonio literally made our jaws drop.
If nothing else, the Portuguese had enough
power, wealth, and swagger to go over the
top to a level of decadence that made us
both rethink Rome as sort of a hick town!
Lisbon is a living museum. Everywhere
one walks the building facades are clad
in azulejos (tiles) dating from the 15th
century on. Having been conquered by
the Islamic Moors in 714 AD - locals
emulated their conquerer's tile work.
Later inspired by the beauty of Chinese
porcelain or Renaissance Della Robbia,
azulejos continued to evolve and reflect
whatever the latest fashion was. Thus
one can also see sinuous Art Nouveau
examples and mid century modernist
masterpieces. ALL upon their walls!
Next we journeyed via train to Sintra, the
historic royal summer enclave. This lush
and mountainous home to five palaces is
beyond awe inspiring. Perched high above
it all, said residences offer more than just
ocean and city views. The vast National
Palace is enrobed in azulejos including
Mudejar tiles dating back to the twelfth
century. Beyond chic at the time of their
installation - today they connect the dots
back to the Muslim origins of what has
become a unique Portuguese phenomena.
We coveted every single square inch...
More than you know...
After two weeks we still can't get enough
azulejos. And so we decided that we had
to take some home. Given we're building
several large masonry garden wall, we've
got plenty of surface on which to display
azulejos. Antique stores offered pricey
bits and pieces. Visiting the flea market
we discovered mounds of the stuff. We
particularly were attracted to those circa
the 18th century. However we wondered
if at their age they could weather our
cold Montana winters! Plus how could
we bring home such a heavy burden?
Blocks from our apartment we discovered
the studio of Anabela Cardozo. One of the
last remaining azulejos (azzz-jew-lay-joes)
artists, she is teaching the next generation
to work their tile magic. Anabela's work
utilizes age old techniques that when new
are more than strong enough to survive a
Montanan freeze. We commissioned two
reproductions of 18th century originals
that feature birds, deer, and a few ducks
(shown to the right here and at left below.)
We'll consider them to be the Portuguese
equivalent of our wild west! YEE HAW!
Souvenirs are if nothing else reminders
of times past. Who isn't tempted to bring
a bit of somewhere else home with them?
While we don't collect ashtrays our home
is filled with memories of the places we've
been. Therefore it's only fitting that we
ship home a bit of Portugal. Plus we're
thrilled that our "secret garden" will now
feature two moments of our past made
permanent. Frank's grandfather, father,
and brother were stonemasons so it "fits"
to display them on a masonry wall. Talk
about going back to square one...