Calçada – Portugal’s Distinctive Mosaic Pavements

I first spotted the distinctive patterned street mosaics on Senado Square in Macau, in 2009, and a couple of years later in Rio de Janeiro.  They were strong reminders of the stories of the first global explorations, of the age of discoveries initiated by one of the largest colonial empires in history. It is surprising that Goa, the capital of the Portuguese empire in the Orient, or the other Portuguese influenced towns (including Mangalore) on the West coast of india, failed to hold on to this symbolic feature.

Mosaic tile pattern titled 'The Wide Ocean' on Rossio Square, Lisbon.

Mosaic tile pattern – The Wide Ocean – Rossio Square, Lisbon.

The emblematic art form – Calçada Portuguesa – is healthily abundant in much of Portugal. The streets of almost every historic city centre are paved with limestone mosaics with black basalt inserts ranging in pattern from simple repetitive lines or grids to some elaborate curlicues. In the Azores sidewalks the colours are reversed since they mine more basalt and need to import limestone from the mainland.

Calçada in its current form was first used in 1842, in the gardens of Sao Jorge castle designed by lieutenant-general Eusébio Pinheiro Furtado (then governor of the castle) and executed by captives in the castle prison. Six years later, lieutenant-general Furtado’s design for Rossio square (Praça de Dom Pedro IV ) – a series of mind-bending curves titled ‘The Wide Ocean’ – was approved by the city council. It was a matter of time before the mosaic paving spilled over onto the streets and pavements of Lisbon and of all Portugal.

The limestone paving worn shiny smooth with use, makes for treacherously slippery streets especially when wet.  It is standard advice for visitors to Portugal – to Lisbon and Porto in particular – to wear ‘sensible’ shoes with proper grip. As on many previous trips, my pretty evening slip-ons with leather soles were only used twice during our entire visit, and then involved stepping with great caution. They’ll probably stay home on the next.

Mosiac Tile Pavements of Portugal

Av. Libardade, Lisbon

Av. Liberdade

Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon

Random pavement -Lisbon

Largo de Camões, Lisbon

Largo de Camões, Lisbon

Praça do Município, Lisbon

Street in Ponta Delgada- Sao Miguel island, Azores

Pavement mosaic, Ponta Delgada, Azores

Close -up – the famed pineapple of the Azores!

Star spangled square in front of the igreja Matriz de Sao Sebastiao, the only spot on Ponta Delgada where limestone was the primary material.

Queen Saint Isabel, Coimbra’s patron saint beneath the gate to the university.

The exquisite Igreja do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos (a Porto suburb)