Taking souvenirs from some country is like taking a piece of that country with you.
In most cases, this is a great thing – the perfect way to remember the place you visited. But sometimes, taking a piece of someplace draws consequences that most tourists are not aware of. This is a case with famous azulejo tiles, a favourite souvenir from Portugal.
Azulejo is a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework, and they are a vital part of Portuguese cultural heritage. The first manufacturing and use of azulejos date way back to the 13th century, in Spain. The technique showed strong Persian influences. But only after introducing it into Portugal, in the 14th century, the art and craft of azulejo developed and flourished in the most creative way, down to modern times. These tiles decorate everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces and ordinary houses. Portugal, especially Lisabon, can be seen as a vast open-air museum of azulejo. That is why they are so attractive as a souvenir from Portugal.
Here is a sad part, apparently many azulejo tiles are taken from old buildings just to be sold as souvenirs. Many beautiful facades are damaged because of this practice, and people from Portugal would like you to know this.
Photo by Alice Butenko on Unsplash
It is well known that the global tourism boom, recorded over the last decades, has brought many adverse side effects. Depending on a country, region, or city, it has been proven that tourism growth can have various disastrous repercussions on the environment and cultural heritage.
When it comes to Portugal, and its capital Lisabon, there is no doubt that the ever-growing foreign tourist inflow contributes to a significant increase in thefts of azulejos. Lisbon authorities estimate that, just between the years 1980 and 2000, the city has lost 25% of the total number of artistic tiles. Tile thefts reached peaks of around 10,000 per year in 2001, 2002 and 2006. The tiles can sometimes be found for sale in street fairs and the black market of the capital.
This alarming statistic and the sorry states of affairs prompted the Portuguese Judiciary Police Museum to set up the “SOS Azulejo Project” in 2007. In Portugal, the Judiciary Police is responsible for tackling crimes related to cultural heritage.
The project’s goal was to stop antique dealers from selling stolen Portuguese tiles. Moreover, it was relevant to raise people’s awareness of the implications that this danger causes to this valuable area of Portuguese heritage. By active cooperation between a museum, cultural heritage organisations, the republican guard, and security police, as well as universities and local schools, the project achieved significant and measurable success. Tile thefts have plunged by 80 per cent since the project was set up, and new regulations have been introduced prohibiting the demolition of tile-covered building façades in Lisbon.
According to Wikipedia, the city of Lisbon has also developed ‘Banco do Azulejo’, that collects and stores around 30 thousand tiles provenient from demolished or intervened buildings, and also from donations to the city, in a project similar to others existent in the cities of Aveiro, Porto and Ovar.
In August 2017, a new law was put in place in order to prevent both the demolition of tile-covered buildings across the country, and the initiation of renovating operations that could mean the removal of tiles, even if they only affect the building’s interior
We sincerely hope this positive trend continues and the Portuguese houses that used to be adorned with azulejos restore to their former glory.
Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash
As an appropriate alternative (and the only ethical and honest one), you can buy beautiful, faithful reproductions of antique azulejos as souvenirs from Lisbon. They are traceable in various ceramic shops around the city, as well as original pieces.
You must pay a visit to Solar – the oldest and largest antique store in Portugal and the world’s largest antique tile dealer. Then, there is Loja dos Descobrimentos which offers beautifully painted reproductions and custom made pieces at more affordable prices. XVIII – Azulejo & Faiança presents hand-painted tiles and pottery inspired by 18th-century style. At d’Orey Azulejos e Antiguidades you will find antique tiles as well as reproductions. Definitely worth visiting is Cortiço e Netos. They sell original tiles manufactured from the 1960s henceforth.
Do you know some other place where to buy? We would like to hear local people for some advice!
Being a traveller or tourists means that you want to experience and admire the different culture, architecture and history. To respect and cherish places not to be part of their destruction.
So, while in Portugal, stay away from shady souvenir vendors. Make sure that you buy your souvenirs at places that produce and sell authentic azulejos, that haven’t been taken from some old building.
Photo by Madalena Veloso on Unsplash
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