One of my favorite stops on our Portugal trip was São Bento Railway Station in Porto. Opened in 1916, Porto’s train station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.
The vestibule of the station is what makes it so special. Over 20,000 azulejo tiles adorn the walls. The tiles are the work of Jorge Colaço, an important Portuguese artist who specialized in painting large murals using azulejos. The walls are covered with blue azulejos depicting scenes from Portugal’s history. Polychromatic tiles border the ceiling and show scenes from the history of transportation in Portugal.
São Bento Railway Station may look like a museum but it’s a working railway station with lines to Braga, Guimarães, and Aveiro as well as being the starting point for the scenic Douro Line.
Aveiro was one of our favorite stops during our visit to Portugal. Though best known for its canals and the moliceiros that carry tourists up and down the canals, there’s a lot more to the city than the canals. The city is full of fine examples Art Nouveau architecture and Portugal’s famous azulejos and calçada are everywhere.
Just a few minutes walk from Aveiro’s main canal you’ll find the city’s beautiful old railway station. The station has been replaced by a newer and shinier station, but the old station is a gem. The station is covered with azulejos depicting scenes from the area, including salt harvesting and fishing, both of which were traditional industries of Aveiro.
During our visit the station was closed and fenced off, hopefully for restoration. The building is now over a century old and is in need of restoration. We were still able to view the beautiful tiled artwork on the front of the building. The tiles are predominantly the traditional blue azulejos, but highlights of yellow are scattered throughout, especially in the tilework framing the scenes. These two sections depict scenes of the Vouga River and the Aveiro Lagoon.
The azulejos are quite beautiful and serve the purpose of documenting the history and traditions of Aveiro. The citizens of the city are quite proud of their history and their old railway station does a great job of putting their history on display for visitors who may come to Aveiro through the railway station.
My hope is that on our next visit to Aveiro the renovation of the old railway station has been completed and we’ll be able to enjoy the station in more detail. For now, it was a nice stop on our tour of Portugal.
Azulejos, the beautiful decorative tiles that adorn buildings throughout the country, are now synonymous with Portugal, but they have a history that spans several countries and cultures. Of Moorish origin, the tiles were not only beautiful, they had a functional purpose as well, serving as insulators against the intense heat of the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Azulejos first came to Portugal from Seville, when Dom Manuel I, during his visit to the Spanish city, was struck by the beauty of the tiles. Originally the tiles were of geometric or floral patterns. Their use rapidly spread throughout Portugal, becoming a popular building material for the outside of buildings as well as being used to decorate the interiors structures.
As the popularity of azulejos grew, so did demand. During the second half of the 17th century, Delft potter makers, whose blue and white pottery was already popular throughout Europe, began producing tiles. The popularity of the Dutch tiles was such that they effectively created a monopoly and shut out many Portuguese manufacturers. Dom Pedro II, alarmed at the rate that the Dutch tiles were taking over the market, banned all imports of azulejos between 1687 and 1698, allowing Portuguese artists to fill the void left by the ban.
Over the next few centuries azulejos remained popular in Portugal. The influence of the Dutch tiles continued to be felt, as the blue and white tiles were the most commonly used, but more and more the tiles were used to depict scenes and tell stories. Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs became popular in the early 20th century as artists such as António Costa and Jorge Colaço began to create works of art from azulejos.
From the stunning São Bento Station in Porto, featuring over 20,000 blue and white tiles, to decorative scenes featuring just a couple dozen tiles, azulejos can be found throughout Portugal. This art form with an international history is now forever a part of Portugal.