Lisbon … views for miles and decorative tiles at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

A walk around the hilly narrow streets of Lisbon’s charming Alfama and Graça districts is like having a rigorous eye examination at the opticians: one constantly flickers between long- and short-sightedness as no one can resist staring out at the sumptuous views over the city through the gaps between the buildings, whilst at the same time trying to gaze up at the traditionally tiled decoration of the buildings between the gaps.

Testing Hypermetropia: one of many views over the city as seen along the streets of Alfama and Graça

Testing Hypermetropia: one of many views over the city as seen along the streets of Alfama and Graça

Testing Myopia: visitors often have to strain their necks and eye sight to enjoy the stunning and reasonably well preserved nineteenth century tiled decoration of buildings along the narrow streets of the Alfama and Graça districts

Testing Myopia: visitors often have to strain their necks and eye sight to enjoy the stunning and reasonably well preserved nineteenth century tiled decoration of buildings along the narrow streets of the Alfama and Graça districts

The hand-painted tiles, known as azulejos, were used to keep buildings cool from the blaring Lisbon heat

The hand-painted tiles, known as azulejos, were used to keep buildings cool from the blaring Lisbon heat

The patterns used on the azulejos in poorer districts were kept simple, typically geometric shapes

The patterns used on the azulejos in poorer districts were kept simple, typically geometric shapes

Alfama azulejos, Villa Sousa Gracia, dark blue tiled building from 1890

Alfama azulejos, Villa Sousa Gracia blue tiles detail

Wealthier residents could show off their wealth by adopting more intricate designs on their azulejos

Wealthier residents could show off their wealth by adopting more intricate designs on their azulejos

Alfama azulejos blue tiled covered low rise building

Sitting on top of one of the highest points in Graça in its present form since the sixteenth century, the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora has had a long historical, religious and cultural connection with Lisbon. Kings of Portugal have been laid to rest here and various saints have passed through its doors over the centuries. But, what arguably makes this church stand out from others in the city is its richly decorated azulejo cloisters dating back to the eighteenth century.

The distinctive twin bell towers of Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia

The distinctive twin bell towers of Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia

The courtyard of one of São Vicente de Fora's two unique cloisters

The courtyard of one of São Vicente de Fora’s two unique cloisters

The walls of the cloisters are covered in beautiful motif-rich azulejos, many chronicling the history of Portugal

The walls of the cloisters are covered in beautiful motif-rich azulejos, many chronicling the history of Portugal

Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora Lisboa, Monastery of Saint Vicente de Fora Lisbon, azulejos monastery, cloister tiled section

Every spare wall of the monastery's cloisters is covered in these stunning hand-painted tiles

Every spare wall of the monastery’s cloisters is covered in these stunning hand-painted tiles

...and when I say every spare wall, I mean every spare wall. No flat surface around the cloisters has been left untiled

…and when I say every spare wall, I mean every spare wall. No flat surface around the cloisters has been left untiled

Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora Lisbon, azulejos monastery, cloister stairway chariot detail

The art form is originally Arabic and was introduced to Portugal by King Manuel I after seeing azulejos during a visit to Seville in the sixteenth century. Portugal still adopts and celebrates the style today as their own, and as a result azulejos are now more commonly associated with the Portuguese

The art form is originally Arabic and was introduced to Portugal by King Manuel I after seeing azulejos during a visit to Seville in the sixteenth century. Portugal still adopts and celebrates the style today as their own, and as a result azulejos are now more commonly associated with the Portuguese

Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora Lisboa, Monastery of Saint Vicente de Fora Lisbon, azulejos monastery, panels based on La Fontaine Fables, cloisters seen from roof

As well as the azulejo cloisters, the monastery also exhibits thirty-eight original tiled panels based on the fables of the French poet Jean de La Fontaine. The fables were popular in the eighteenth century among Portuguese poets, and azulejos were created at the time to portray the more popular and morally rich tales from La Fontaine’s collection. Almost all the azulejos have a strong connection with nature and nearly all the fables are rather bemusing by today’s standards.

Take, for example the fable of The Bear and the Man who Loved Gardens: a lonely bear and an equally lonely old man met and became such good friends that when the man fell asleep in his garden the bear would keep flies off his friend’s face. The bear however was clumsy and when a fly once landed on the sleeping man’s nose, the bear threw a large rock at it to kill it, unfortunately cracking his friend’s skull open in the process and killing him.

Moral: wear a sun hat over your face when taking a snooze outdoors to protect yourself from flies and rock wielding bears

Moral: wear a sun hat over your face when taking a snooze outdoors to protect yourself from flies and rock wielding bears

Bear detail

Another fable depicted in these tiles describes how a weasel once trespassed inside a rabbit’s warren and claimed ownership of it. The rabbit protested but the weasel claimed that things belong to those who take them and not to those who inherit them as had been the case with the rabbit. Unable to agree with each other, the two animals turned to a cat for advice. As the animals stood in front of their feline judge, the cat asked them to move closer to him as he was hard of hearing, and as soon as they were at paw’s reach the cat pounced on them and ate them both up, thus “bringing” them together.

Moral: don't use a cat for property conveyancing

Moral: don’t use a cat for property conveyancing

I don't think she was impressed with the ending

I don’t think she was impressed with the ending

 

The fable of the Dog and Donkey. Moral: never go out to dinner with a donkey

The fable of the Dog and Donkey. Moral: never go out to dinner with a donkey

The fable of Death and the Dying Man. Moral: you're going to die one day

The fable of Death and the Dying Man. Moral: you’re going to die one day

Useful information

The ever popular – and always crowded – number 28 tram passes very close to the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Get off at the tram stop after Largo da Graça and follow the signs. The church itself is often closed to the public when mass is not being conducted, but the entrance to the monastery and cloisters can be found around the back of the building through the walled courtyard to the right of the imposing church front. It is opened daily and the entrance fee is €8 (2016). This ticket gives access not just to the cloisters and azulejos collection but also to the museum, chapels, Royal Pantheon and rooftop where one can enjoy yet another stunning panorama of Lisbon.

Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora Lisboa, Monastery of Saint Vicente de Fora Lisbon, azulejos monastery, bell towers from roof

Cristo Rei and Pont 25 de Abril seen on the horizon from the monastery's roof top

Cristo Rei and Pont 25 de Abril seen on the horizon from the monastery’s roof top

TLT x


Lisbon: Lisbon funiculars parked up at night - do Lavra (1)riding ‘Justa‘ another form of classic transport. Trams, funiculars and possibly the loveliest lift in the world

 

 

 


Évora: the igreja-de-sao-joao-azulejos-church-seen-from-side-of-altarmagnificent church of tiles verses the macabre chapel of bones in the Alentejo capital

 

 

 

 

 


 

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1 Response to Lisbon … views for miles and decorative tiles at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

  1. Anne Guy says:

    What grout tales whoops… great tales and fabulous images of your night on the tiles!!! Fascinating!!!

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