You may have heard rumors of the existence of a unique place that houses a truly impressive collection of tiles from the 14th century to the present-day: the National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo). Before I lose your attention, (“Staring at tiles sounds boring; I can do that in my bathroom!”), let me give you five good reasons why I, and thousands of TripAdvisor reviewers, hold this stunning collection in such high regard; and why you should take an hour or two to cross off this museum from your to-see list.
If you hadn’t already planned to visit this museum on your next trip to Lisbon, here are 5 reasons why you should:
1. The church. The museum is located in a building whose origins date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was a convent. The striking, gold-lined church with azulejo panels is incredibly well-preserved and is part of the guided and self-guided tours. So even though the focus is on tiles, you see so much more than you expect!
2. You walk amongst the art. Although there are azulejo tiles on display, the building itself has plenty of blue and white tiles throughout. Stairwells and courtyards are coated in old, sometimes damaged, tiles. And even though they are more modern, I absolutely love the food-themed azulejos in the restaurant! Even if you don’t have time to stop and grab a quick bite, it’s well-worth peeking in just to see them.
3. The unexpected find. Perhaps it’s general knowledge, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that this museum is home to a massive panoramic 23 meter (75.5 foot) long mural of Lisbon, dating back to the first half of the 18th century, before Lisbon was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755. I probably spent a little too long in this room identifying the various buildings that are still standing today, and the many that were lost during the earthquake and fires that day, but I was captivated by it. Stumbling upon this masterpiece was a genuine treat!
4. Looking extremely educated. Because the museum takes you in a chronological order of the evolution of this art-form, you pick up a broad understanding of the subject. After you leave, you may start to associate azulejos you see at other locations with a specific time period, based on what you learned at the museum. Essentially, you can impress others by saying things like “Aren’t these 18th century azulejos simply exquisite?” (Posh British accent is preferred but not necessary.) People will nod enthusiastically in awe of your knowledge.
5. It’s really pretty. My last point is obvious, but it should be stated nevertheless. These little pieces of art are beautiful and so is the building. Maybe they’ll inspire your next home renovation, or maybe you’ll find your ideal souvenir in the gift shop… one thing is certain: your visit to the National Tile Museum will be memorable.