Curved red thigh tiles on a roof in Elvas castle

You might be wondering what on earth thigh tiles are. If you come to Portugal and look at the roofs of older buildings, chances are you’ll see some. They’re the long, curved terracotta or clay tiles that were once made by hand. And leg.

Thigh tiles, Silves castle, Algarve
Thigh tiles, Silves castle, Algarve

If you look closely at an old roof, you’ll notice that the tiles aren’t uniform in size and curvature like the modern, mass-produced barrel tiles. That’s because they were shaped on someone’s thigh! While some people have short fat legs, others have long slim ones or medium, muscular thighs, which explains why there’s such a range of differently shaped tiles and why they’re wider at one end than the other.

Fortunately, because of the way they are laid in alternate troughs and peaks, this isn’t usually a problem. The finished roof may not be perfectly straight and regular but it won’t leak and has its own unique charm.

Close up, thigh tiles
Close up, thigh tiles

Not all of these so-called thigh tiles were made on human legs; some traditional tile factories used logs or bars to shape the clay. The tiles from our old barn roof are too long for my own thigh and I’m quite tall compared to a lot of Portuguese people so I suspect they were moulded around a log, not a leg.

This post gets me one step closer to completing my Personal A to Z of Portugal.

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8 Comments

  1. Had never heard of it, but interesting fact. I quite like those tiles and used to use old tiles for crafts and painting. Pity I didn’t bring them along to Australia, they would be a novelty!

    1. Author

      I’ve seen quite a few of these tiles painted up and turned into beautiful artwork. You’re right, they’d definitely be a novelty in Australia, and very popular I imagine. Maybe you should get some shipped over…

  2. I can’t believe I got to tell my husband something he didn’t know about tiles, roofs, Portugal…or anything! Thanks, Julie. Really interesting post.

    1. Author

      Happy to help you score points, Tricia 😉

    1. Author

      I’d always wondered about them until a friend enlightened me. I was still a little uncertain as to whether or not it was true but wikipedia bears out her story.

    1. Author

      They’re really quaint, aren’t they? There’s an outbuilding just down the road from me which used to have an uneven, multicoloured thigh tiled roof. My neighbours had it done up recently and it’s roof has now got the standard, mass-produced barrel tiles instead which doesn’t look half as pretty.

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