National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
The National Museum of Azulejo in Lisbon is housed in Convento de Madre Deus, a 16th century convent founded by one of Portugal’s most beloved queens, Queen Leonor. Unbeknownst to many, it is both a museum and a national monument, which introduces the idea that there is more here than meets the eye.
It's located well off the beaten path at Rua Madre Deus 4, 1900-312 in Lisbon. If you are not traveling with your own car, you will need to either take an Uber, a bus, or the metro to Santa Apolonia and then walk the remainder of the way.
My friends and I visited the museum this past Wednesday when the temperatures soared to 102°. The museum is not air conditioned (although they do have fans set up which was a delight to stand in front of) so I'm very happy that we got there just after the museum opened at 10 a.m. At that time, there were also less crowds. When we were leaving, there was a line out the door to buy tickets.
History of Azulejo
Azulejo (pronounced ah-zoo-lay-joo) comes from the Arabic word al-zulaich, which means polished stone. It shares the same root word as zellige, the ceramic tiles commonly found in Moroccan and Moorish architecture. These tiles are ceramic works of art produced using a variety of techniques and reflecting highly skilled craftsmanship.
The famous blue and white patterns were inspired by the Dutch, who began to overtake the Portuguese in the late 17th century. The blue and white designs also drew favorable comparisons to Chinese porcelain.
The Nossa Senhora da Vida (Our Lady of Life) panel features an empty space where a window used to be. The light from the window would interact with the image of the Virgin Mary on the panel.
Igreja Madre de Deus (Church and Chapterhouse of the Church of the Mother of God)
There are surprises around every corner, though none quite as spectacular (in my opinion) as the one waiting for us when we entered the church. The church was built in the 16th century, but received an upgrade in the 18th century at the height of the Portuguese Baroque period.
The museum also has some impressive and eclectic art.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, with the final entry at 5:30 pm. Tickets are €5, (free entry to the museum with the Lisboa Card, which covers free travel on Lisbon’s buses, subways and trams, while also offering free or discounted entry into many popular attractions).