The Moors introduced elaborate geometric tile work to Portugal when they ruled the Iberian Peninsula. But after the Reconquista, the Portuguese — no longer bound by Muslim laws against depicting figures — developed their own style of hand-painted tiles called azulejos. Lisbon façades frequently have expanses of colorful identical azulejos. But the art reaches its highest expression in mural-like compositions, usually done in blue and white (the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora in the Alfama has a particularly rich azulejo mural collection).
Numerous stores in Lisbon sell azulejos, both hand-painted and factory-made. Here is a selection of the best places to purchase the tiles, whether you seek just a single antique piece for a bookshelf or an entire mural to decorate your bath.
With a pretty storefront in Chiado, this azulejo manufacturer is the oldest in Lisbon, dating to the 18th century. The company still uses traditional methods and classic patterns, but it happily accepts custom commissions (tiles shipped out of the country avoid the 23 percent VAT). The showroom displays mostly new hand-painted tiles, but it also has a small selection of antique pieces.
Rua do Alecrim 95. Tel. (351) 21-342-2537
No other shop has such an impressive selection of antique tiles, ranging from 15th-century geometric Moorish pieces to 20th-century azulejos, with both individual tiles and murals in various sizes for sale. Browsing the rambling, historic space is a delight. We came away with a charming blue-and-white 18th-century tile depicting a dog.
Rua Dom Pedro V 70. Tel. (351) 21-346-5522
On the edge of the Alfama, this bright shop has hand-painted azulejos and azulejo murals with more-contemporary designs, in addition to antique reproductions. It also stocks a tempting selection of ceramics from around Portugal. I was particularly taken with the colorful and intricately decorated serving dishes made near Coimbra.
Loja dos Descobrimentos
Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 14B. Tel. (351) 21-886-5563