National Azulejo Day in Portugal Date in the current year: May 6, 2024

National Azulejo Day in Portugal National Azulejo Day is observed in Portugal on May 6. It celebrates a form of Portuguese tin-glazed ceramic tilework that constitutes a major aspect of Portuguese architecture both in Portugal proper and in its former colonies.

The word azulejo is derived from the Arabic zellij, which means a style of mosaic tilework characteristic for medieval Moorish architecture and Moroccan architecture. Azulejos originated in the Spanish city of Seville around the 13th century and were introduced to Portugal in the early 16th century following the visit of Manuel I of Portugal to Seville in 1503.

The earliest preserved azulejos in Portugal can be found in the Palace of Sintra, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Greater Lisbon region. Until the mid-16th century, the Portuguese primarily imported decorative tiles from Spain and Flanders; among the early Portuguese azulejo masters were Marçal de Matos and presumably his nephew and student Francisco de Matos.

Mass production of azulejos began in the late 17th and the early 18th centuries. This time period is referred to as the Golden Age of the Azulejo. During this time, tiles were used to decorate not only churches, monasteries and palaces, but also houses. Some buildings were covered with azulejos both inside and outside!

Today, azulejos can be found on the interior and exterior of churches, monasteries, palaces, schools, restaurants, bars, residential buildings, and even railway and subway stations in Portugal, Spain, and former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Notably, almost every station of the Lisbon Metro is decorated with azulejo tiles.

Although the main purpose of azulejos is ornamental, ceramic tiles also used to serve for temperature control in hot climates. Many azulejos depict religious scenes or chronicle major events in Portuguese history, which makes them an important part of Portuguese cultural heritage. A whole museum in Lisbon, named the National Museum of the Azulejo (Museu Nacional do Azulejo), is dedicated to them.

Sadly, despite their cultural and historical importance, azulejos are vulnerable to neglect, theft, and vandalism. In Lisbon, for example, azulejos stolen from the facades of decaying old buildings are sold to foreign tourists in street fairs and the black market. According to the city authorities, around one quarter of the total number of azulejos was lost between 1980 and 2000.

In 2007, the Portuguese Judiciary Police Museum launched the SOS Azulejo Project to raise awareness of the theft and lack of conservation of azulejos. The project cooperates with various organizations to facilitate the identification of artistic tiles, control their sale, and prevent the demolition of tile-covered buildings and the removal of tiles from the buildings that are being renovated.

In March 2017, the Assembly of the Republic (Portuguese parliament) proclaimed May 6 as National Azulejo Day (Dia Nacional do Azulejo) to highlight the important role of azulejo tiles in Portuguese history and culture, and to raise awareness of the importance of preserving azulejos.

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