The art of story-tiling

Oct 04, 2012, 01:18 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Tucked away in Panjim's Fontainhas locality is a charming store that celebrates the Portuguese art of glazed tile work called Azulejo. From murals to ceramics and home decor that reflects intricacy and tradition, Velha Goa is a must-visit, cultural experience when you've had enough of the sun, sand and spirits. Present owner Raul Costa speaks to Fiona Fernandez about preserving this stunning art for the world

Azulejo tilework is common in Goa because of its Portuguese origins

How and why did your father decided to start Velha Goa, with the focus on Azulejo?
My dad, Ivo Da Costa loved to travel; one of the first countries he visited was Portugal. While on vacation he saw its churches and he noticed that they were filled with this art, which was called Azulejo. We had cousins in Portugal as my grandparents were born there. A Growing interest in this art made my dad take advice from our cousins and decided to set up Velha Goa (velha is old in Portuguese), hence the term old Goa. He imported all raw material required and also machinery like kilns from Portugal and began on a small scale.

A wall panel displaying different Azulejo designs and colours. Pics Courtesy/Raul Costa.

What were some of the challenges you faced while taking over the reins to ensure this art lives on?
Due to the unexpected death of my father, it was very difficult for me to have the courage to take over Velha Goa. Being just 17 at the time when he passed away, I had my studies also to work on, but with my mother, Bina Da Costa’s encouragement, I began to study the art, slowly, and how things worked. There were a lot of difficulties, which I faced at the beginning, outsourcing was one of the most challenging tasks, as I did not know how to speak Portuguese, and have been there just once. Art is not something that you can pick up just overnight; I’m still in the process of learning it.

Close up of Azulejo work on tiles

How have your artisans been able to adapt the Azulejo style of art? Also, did you have to Indian-ise or Goan-ise the designs to suit local tastes?
From the beginning, our artisans were trained by Portuguese artisans who specialised in Azulejo. These artisans now are still with us and have improved tremendously. We have introduced a collection of the famous Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda and also introduced various Spanish, Dutch and Turkish designs as well.

Azulejo work at Pinhao, Douro Valley

How do you replicate a particular Azulejo, from start to finish — time, fixing of the design, colours etc?
Being hand painted, to replicate a particular Azulejo is very difficult because of the detail involved. For certain patterns we have made stencils which make the work a bit easier but a single tile with a certain pattern can have around 4-5 different stencils with different shades, mixing of colours is a burdensome task to get right and requires a lot of trials and trying. Time is vital and one of the major lessons I have learnt is that haste always makes waste.

A wall panel displaying different Azulejo designs and colours

What has been some of your most difficult projects till date?
I have just taken over Velha Goa; it’s been just less than a year. I have taken up a chapel here — it’s under renovation and is situated in Curtorim in Goa. It consists of about 4,000 tiles. Being my first major project, I it will be a very tough job at hand.

Azulejo tilework on a bureau

Azulejo tiles on a table

The Merriam Webster refers to it as “a glazed usually blue ceramic tile originally of Portugal and Spain” with its earliest written reference dating to 1880. The Arabs first used it in Spain in the 14th century during the Moorish occupation. Azulejos were used in Islamic architecture for facing walls and paving floors. Early designs were geometric and 5-6 inches. (13-15 cm) per square. In the 15th-16th centuries, Portugal imported these tiles from Spain for use in religious and private buildings.

Raul Costa inside his family store, Velha Goa in Panaji.

The Portuguese exported them in the 17th century to the Azores, Madeira, and Brazil (as well as its colonies, including Goa), and the Spaniards introduced them to their American colonies.

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