My last journey to Portugal
On my recent journey to Portugal, I came back again to Lisbon many years later since the last time I was there. It is a city to experience without a hurry. Even its “multilevel” streets will remind you of it. After some days (personally I suggest a four nights minimum stay), I moved northern to Porto. My aim was clear: visiting the São Bento train station. Its walls are covered with thousands pictorial azulejos, each representing evocative topics of national culture and religious subjects. That was definitely one of the greatest highlights when discovering this region and its main city, Porto.
How can be made those beautiful small glazed and painted tiles? Which is the secret of their light? Wherever you go in Portugal, there are plenty of opportunities to watch this work unfold right in front of you.
During my travel to Portugal, I also explored the region around Lisbon and I had a great opportunity. I was invited by one of our collaborators to experience an azulejos workshop at São Simão Arte located in a small village close to Azeitão, where I could check that the decorative tiles are still now made in the true Portuguese traditional way, using its conventional colors such as blue, yellow and olive green.
The art of making azulejos tiles from scratch
I started making azulejos tiles from its base. I pressed clay manually with a ballast roller and then I cut a perfect piece of raw material. All the process is extremely long and it could have been “quite” impossible for me to bring back my new azulejo at the end of the day. The tiles are usually allowed to dry naturally for 2 months. After a first firing, tiles reach their standard size (14×14 centimeters). Next follow a manual glazing and painting. Tiles are then fired for a second time and different nuances in color can appear.
I had the chance to paint a tile. Many famous painters are still turning in their graves…But it was really fascinating understand better the handmade production technique of azulejos, an identifying element of Portuguese culture. Then I had a rest after my “hard” work in the nearby winery José Maria de Fonseca, where I enjoyed a wonderful glass of Moscatel de Setúbal. I spent a very nice day, also thanks to the local people I share the experience with!
In case you are eager to try the same I had on your travel to Portugal, I know exactly where to go and can easily arrange it for you. And what about your own painted azulejo made during the workshop? I learned that in case a person wants to have it at home, they can organize the shipping after the process has finished. I found it really as way to keep alive this amazing experience!