A new short film looks at the vibrant and eclectic culture of the Portuguese capital and its trademark azulejos.

By the 18th century, Portugal had become Europe's leading manufacturer of azulejos. The ceramic tiles, distinguished by their blue glaze frequently featuring religious motifs, are not indigenous to the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, the earthenware pieces originated on the opposite side of the Mediterranean, in Egypt, where they were first baked centuries before. The designs were eventually introduced to Europe, where they gained wide popularity in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

Even today, the azulejos are an ubiquitous part of Lisbon design. "The earthenware is on every street corner," says Florian Lalanne, a filmmaker who recently returned from the city. "It's really amazing."

(Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões

When the city opened its first metro station in the 1950s, urban planners decided to design it with azulejos. Tiling the modern transit system had little to do with engineering and everything to do with the rider experience. The azulejos made "the underground spaces feel less separate from the outside world," according to a BBC report.

The house of Ferreira das Tabuletas in Lisbon. (Flickr/Bosc d'Anjou)

Lalanne, a French national, has captured the coastal city's energy—and its famous tiling—in a new short film. Waiting for Azulejos was shot over three days while Lalanne toured the city with his wife. It's part of a larger film series, called the Waiting Project, where filmmakers patiently capture some of the quieter aesthetic beauty of cities across the world, Lalanne says.

"What struck me the most [about Lisbon] was the good life, the atmosphere, the pleasure of walking on the streets," Lalanne told CityLab in reference to his film. "It is during these wanderings that I like to make my shots."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    The Sensory City Philosopher

    Architect, engineer, and inventor Carlo Ratti envisions a future for urban design that's interactive.

  2. Equity

    What Cities Do Right to Integrate Immigrants, in 4 Charts

    A sociologist interviewed hundreds of immigrants in New York, Barcelona, and Paris. Here's what he says those cities get right—and do wrong—when integrating foreign-born residents.

  3. An illustration shows two alleys in Detroit.
    Design

    Finding the Untapped Potential of Alleys

    “We’re starting to realize they’re just as powerful as a park or plaza.”

  4. A neon sign spells out "66" on historic Route 66.
    Life

    Get Your Kicks Biking Route 66

    Cyclists are now rolling on U.S. Bike Route 66 in Missouri and Kansas, the first stretch of a route planned for the whole length of the historic 2,400-mile highway.

  5. A man bikes down a busy London street with a food-delivery box on the back of his bike.
    Equity

    The Rise of ‘Urban Tech’

    From food-delivery startups to mapping and co-living companies, technology focused on urban systems is drawing billions of dollars in venture capital.