Last Updated on August 30, 2023
By Jim Ferri
For many travelers, Lisbon’s National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) doesn’t sound very exciting. At least, it never did for me during years of travel to the Portuguese capital.
But I was astounded when I finally visited it during my last visit to Lisbon. I found that it’s not merely a museum showing tiles; it’s a unique art museum in its own right. In fact, you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in Europe or, perhaps, the world.
Set in the early 16th-century Madre de Deus Convent in eastern Lisbon, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo takes you on a journey through the history of tile from the 15th century to the present. It’s a spectacular collection, so much so that it’s considered one of the most important national museums in the country. In addition, the convent’s cloisters provide an incredibly stunning setting for the beautiful collection.
The Collection of the Lisbon National Tile Museum
The collection in the Lisbon Tile Museum takes one through the history of azulejos tiles in Portugal, from the Moors’ introduction to the influence on the artistry of the Spaniards and finally to the development of a unique Portuguese style.
The church of the former convent is decorated in Portuguese baroque splendor, with beautiful gilded and carved wood, paintings, and tile panels. Its grand Rococo altarpiece was added in 1755 following the “great Lisbon earthquake,” the largest in history, which destroyed the city and killed 12,000 in the Portuguese capital alone.
You’ll also find one room devoted to just one tile panel – an incredible 75-foot (23mt)-long panel showing 9 miles of the Lisbon skyline before the earthquake. Created in 1700, its 1,300 tiles show some monuments that no longer exist and others you can still visit today.
An added bonus of a visit to the museum is its excellent restaurant, which is decorated with 19th-century kitchen tiles depicting hanging wild boar, pheasant, and other game. Plan to have lunch here since the menu is a bargain.