Street art in Lisbon

Maria Keil
Maria Keil’s Fisherman, Maria Rebelo, digital print image, 2012.

The most beautiful tiles in Lisbon are not in majestic palaces or soaring cathedrals. They decorate humble subway tunnels and ordinary streets like Infante Santo.

Keil do Amaral, the architect who designed the subway in the late 1950s, was dismayed that there were no funds budgeted to cover the bleak cement walls. His wife, the painter Maria Keil, suggested the use of inexpensive tiles and offered to design them for free.

Keil filled the subway with elegant modernist tiles that brought the art of tile making into the 20th century. She continued, throughout her life, to dress the walls of the city with tiles that make Lisbon feel young and pretty. If you’re visiting the capital, here’s a challenge for you: how many of Maria Keil murals can you find?

Timeless tiles

Portugal has produced tiles (“azulejos”) since the 15th century. This production reached its golden age in the 18th century, when beautiful tiles were used to decorate grand palaces and elegant manor houses.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could travel back in time and order tiles from an 18th century master craftsman? Well, you can. Bicesse, a tile factory near Lisbon, makes tiles of pure clay, painted and glazed by hand, just like in the 18th century.

These tiles have the exquisite color nuances of a Rothko painting and the irregular reflections of an ancient mirror. Like fingerprints, no two tiles are exactly alike. Each is a unique work of art.

Cerâmica de Bicesse, Rua da Chapaneira, 81, Bicesse2645-325 Alcabideche (Cascais), Tel. 214 690 528, email, click here for website.