Thieves steals historic Portuguese decorative tiles


Gaping holes on the crumbling walls of an abandoned palace in the heart of Lisbon mark where decorative ceramic tiles have been yanked off, to the displeasure of passing tourists.
Thieves are swiping the elaborately painted tiles, which cover buildings across Portugal, to sell them on the black market. Just one of these tiles, called azulejos, can fetch thousands of euros. And abandoned buildings like the 17th century Pombal Palace, are especially vulnerable.
This was once the family home of the Marquis de Pombal, the statesman who rebuilt Lisbon after a massive earthquake devastated the city in 1755. Owned by Lisbon’s cash-strapped city hall for the last five decades, it has fallen into ruin due to lack of maintenance.
And since a cultural association, Carpe Diem, moved out at the end of July, the palace has been empty.
“SOS Azulejo”, a project set up by police in 2007 to stop antique dealers from selling stolen Portuguese tiles, includes it on its list of “high risk” buildings. Tile thefts have plunged by 80 percent since the project was set up, said Leonor Sa, the head of Portugal’s police museum which displays recovered stolen tiles.
But a huge amount of thefts go unreported, she added.
“The Portuguese do not file complaints because for them they are the most banal thing in the world. They live surrounded by tiles since their birth until their death,” Sa said.
“Foreign tourists who discover these ceramics love them because they don’t have them at home.”
Sa, who has a doctorate in cultural studies, gave birth to her two daughters, Rita and Joana, at a Lisbon hospital decorated in azulejos, where she herself was born 59 years ago.


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