Azulejo – Lisbon, Portugal

If you have seen even just a single image of Portugal, chances are it had azulejo in it. Azulejo is a form of painted glazed tile, whose history dates back to the 13th century. These beautiful painted tiles are synonyms with the country and Lisbon in particular. And for good reason, they are stunning.

My research so far seem to point to Seville Spain being the epicenter of the Azulejo movement in the 13th century, at the time it was heavily influenced by Moorish culture and as such the tiling technique were perfected here.  King Manuel introduced the techniques to Portugal after a visit to Seville and the rest his history.

The Sintra National Palace has an impressive display of both indoor and outdoor tiles. We wound up skipping  it because of sick family members and a want to get settled in Lisbon before Christmas but I would love to go back and visit. There is also a tile museum in Lisbon we didn’t make it to that would probably worth the time if you had an interest in ceramics and history.

My favorite tiles I saw in Portugal were at the Pena Palace in particular the gold tile in picture above. The room was dark so the picture is terrible but I was memorized and wound up holding up a long line of tourist trying to take pictures of it.

A slightly better picture of the gold tile seen above, but it doesn’t show off how vivid the gold was.  I just want to touch it. Which is frowned upon and often ends in being ejected from the building. So I resisted, this time…

Pena also boasts a large college of relief tiles, I couldn’t find any information on the history of the relief tiles, though given when Pena was built I would imagine it was all the rage in the 1800s.

Where as the more standard and repetitive tiles were more common closer to the 15th and 16th centuries.

At various points in history production of tiles moved out from Spain and Portugal to their colonies, a large amount of which landed in Brazil.

Where as the blue and white tiles were more likely from the 18th century and of Netherland origin.

And the blue and white tiles with scenic motifs are possibly even newer and mass produced with industrialized methoods in the 19th century.

If you are really intrigued by the history and tile facades Lisbon Lux has a nice round up of the prettiest facades in Lisbon. Complete with addresses for each building so you can go see them for yourself if you are ever in the area.

Lisbon Lux also has a nice round up of the best tile panels in the city, if you are more interested in the mosaic picture rather than the repetitive patterns.

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Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra, Portugal

One of the main draws of Sintra is Quinta Da Regaleria a romantic style palace built in the 19th century. Though it does own quite a few gothic elements including a fair share of gargoyles affixed to the many towers on the house.

However, Quinta da Regaleria is not just the house, in fact while we were there the house was a very small portion of the self guided tour. The house was turned over the municipality only recently, restoration work and public viewings began in the late nineties. Most of that work has been done so far on restoring the gardens, tunnels, Initiation Wells and grottoes.

We didn’t know this going in and assumed that the house itself would take up quite a bit of time, however at the point of our visit it was only the first floor with a small display providing some history of the house.

I loved touring the house all the same, they had velvet doors which I could not stop touching. It was a good thing there wasn’t a security guard close at hand I would have been in serious trouble. There was definite groping.

The views of and from the house were spectacular but I am not sure I could say otherwise for a single place we visited in Sintra. In the picture above you can see both the Castel of the Moors and the Pena Palace, which I took while standing on one of the many exterior walkways on the house.
However as I mentioned the real draw to the house is the grounds, which have been extensively restored. The ground had expanded over the years and as the property changed hands. One or more of the owners had an interest in ancient symbolism and as such you can see references to the Knights Templar, the Masons and dark alchemy littered through the many garden structures.

One such structure is the Initation Wells which were thought to be used in initiation ceremonies for either Masons or Knights Templar depending on the source. There are two wells on the property one is finished which are the pictures above and below. And then other is only partially finished though there are subterranean tunnels that connect the two.

My favorite part of the property was the tunnels and the grotto. When you leave the main well and walk straight forward through the main tunnel you come out to this spectacular grotto with a small waterfall flowing over the opening. Please note to be careful in the tunnels, while the main one is average adult height that height does vary throughout the tunnel and the side tunnels can become quite low and mostly unlit.  My mom smacked her head on the side of one not realizing how low and narrow it was. I am pretty sure everyone in the tunnels heard it and she had a nice goose egg on her head for a couple days.

If you carry on to the left you come out to a small forum type area that over looks the house but if you go to the right you go through another small tunnel and come out on some stepping stones that go over the algae covered pond. From there you can cross the pond, and go up a couple steps to go over the small bridge that also crosses the pond. It was quite enchanting we wandered back several times during our visit.

Other fun features of the property is the small chapel and greenhouse. The green house was closed when we were there but the building was lovely and I couldn’t help but snap a picture of the tiles on the exterior.

The chapel is extremely small, but incredibly ornate and surprisingly several stories including a basement level that also has a small tunnel that shoots you out close to the main house .

Before we left we had an afternoon snack at the café on the grounds. They had a pretty complete lunch menu, meat pies and pastries along with coffee and soda. I had a delicious chicken pie that I ate WAY too quickly and a cappuccino. We also shared some orange cake and soaked up the sun before heading off back to town.
To get to Quinta La Regaleria all you need is to be in Sintra and have a pair of legs. It is a very easy walk, though the side walk is narrow so take caution.  If you don’t feel safe walking or would rather take a more leisure way up there are Tuktuk rentals in the city center you can use. There didn’t seem to be a single place they are just meandering around and are all easily approachable and friendly.  My final note would be, when visiting illogically you walk past the main entrance up past the house and most of the ground to buy tickets and enter the property. This was confusing for us even though there were signs and volunteers helping steer us to the right entrance, it was especially confusing for non English or Portuguese speakers and cause some upset in a couple cases while we were there.

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Castelo dos Mouros – Sintra, Portugal

Another day another castle. Actually this was our second castle of the trip and it was only our first full day. We are a little crazy. In the picture below you can see in the foreground the Castle of the Moors and in the background the crown of the Pena Palace we had just left.

We chose to split our 10 days adventure in Portugal between two, albeit close, locations. The first half of the trip as I have mentioned we stayed in Sintra, a small parish outside the Lisbon city center though close enough to still be considered part of the Lisbon area. We really wanted to invest some time out here and didn’t want to waste time on public transit each day we came out. So we rented a house and drove. Yikes. Not for the faint of heart.

The first day was stressful, all day flying, then driving, then getting our bearings, finding food, etc. But the second day, our real first day was magical. We started at the Pena Palace which I wrote about here.

Then we walked over to the Castle of the Moors and spent the rest of the day admiring the old ruins and the beautiful views.

Things of note that I could not find anywhere else, you can absolutely walk between the Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors. I couldn’t find a lot of information on this fact when we were planning. Some sites hinted at it but didn’t outright say it was possible. And when I say they are walkable, I mean they are in the same park.

Now I say this as a healthy 30 something, it is steep and the pathway is uneven. However the all of perhaps half mile jaunt between the two is totally doo-able, and if you can’t do it, you can hire a Tuk Tuk. Plus if you are planning on touring the Castle of the Moors you need a pretty strong constitution to begin with. Look at all those stairs! I think this was the point my husband considered giving up as he was well and truly sick by midday.

And yes we hiked all those stairs from start to finish and then halfway back again to exit. It made the jaunt from Pena seem like child’s play. Once we were all tired from the climb and all that pesky fresh air and sunshine we walked back out toward the exit and down the road to our car. The GPS has a bit of trouble finding us in the trees, luckily there isn’t much guessing to get out of the park, just a long single road that takes you into Sintra. However it does take you back to the opposite end of town, so be aware you won’t be exiting in the same area you entered.
Address and Additional Information:2710 Sintra, Portugal


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