One of Lisbon’s most popular museums is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, which introduces visitors to the history of Portuguese tiles within the confines of a 16th century convent. Tiles feature in just about every one of our pictures of Lisbon, so we were excited to learn more about them.
You wouldn’t imagine “tiles” to be a topic which sparks a lot of interest, but this museum is weirdly popular. It might be the proximity to the cruise ship port, or the fact that it was the holiday season… or possibly, we were just underestimating the appeal of tiles… but the size of the crowd on-hand at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo was really astounding.
But the crowds didn’t ruin the experience for us. This museum is excellent and surprisingly large, spread across three floors of the beautiful Convent de Madre Deus. We appreciated the regular museum-type displays, which follow the history of Portuguese azulejos from their Moorish origins, through to Seville and Spain, and into the more modern and abstract designs of today. Even better than these exhibits, though, were the rooms of the convent itself, which have largely been left in their original condition.
It’s no coincidence that this convent was chosen as the site for the museum. The tiles covering its walls are stunning… I’m not implying that the curators are lazy, but this museum was halfway done before they even set up the first exhibits! There’s a lot to see, including the Hunting Room, a small cloister, the chapel in which Queen Leonor I prayed, an unbelievable mural of Lisbon over 22 meters in length, and a 16th-century church gorgeously decorated with both tiles and paintings.
Although we enjoyed our visit, something was nagging at us. It seemed somehow silly to pay entrance to a tile museum in Lisbon, which could itself be considered a city-sized tile museum! Azulejos feature in almost every church, and on the facades of most of the buildings. Even if you skip this Museu Nacional do Azulejo, tiles are going to be a big part of your Lisbon experience.