Calçada – Portugal’s Distinctive Mosaic Pavements

I first spotted the distinctive patterned street mosaics on Senado Square in Macau, in 2009. Then again, 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 my hometown, Mangalore,) on the west coast of india failed to hold on to this symbolic feature.

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.

Av. Libardade, Lisbon
Av. Liberdade  
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)

PORTUGAL ON YOUR RADAR? 📌 PIN FOR LATER

The traditional mosaic pavements of Portugal – Calçada Portuguesa –  can be found all across the country. Especially in the streets in the historic city centres of Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve, even the Azores Islands. Check out my Photo feature.

#PortugalTravel #ThingsToSee #StreetArt #TraditionalArt #Mosaic
Photo feature on the distinctive street mosaics of Portugal: Calçada Portuguesa. The streets of almost every historic city centre are paved with limestone mosaics with black basalt inserts in beautiful patterns.

#PortugalTravel #ThingsToSee #StreetArt #TraditionalArt #Mosaic

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

64 thoughts on “Calçada – Portugal’s Distinctive Mosaic Pavements

    1. Most welcome Jina. I read an account that claimed limestone blocks were sent as ballast on empty Portuguese ships departing to the colonies and since they returned laden with goods, the off loaded limestone was put to use as paving! Couldn’t verify the story, so did not include it 🙂 Thank you for reading. Have a great day.

  1. Thanks for a most informative post, Madhu. I visited th Azores las year and saw thes pavements. One day I hope to visit mainland Portugal

      1. Well, I hope I meet Jo one day….you and I should go to Portugal and meet her, that way I get to meet you too, Madhu!

      2. I don’t mind which of you meets me where, but how could you both go to the Azores without me? Just joking. It’s nice to be popular 🙂 🙂

        1. Ha, much belated, but I’m game Sue. Tell me when. But give me enough time to get myself a visa. I nearly had a heart attack before this visit when my passport turned up a few days before our departure. I just cancelled a trip to Malta with my sister yesterday because my visa is nowhere to be seen 😦

  2. Gorgeous but treacherous, I guess, Madhu. I like the first and last ones for their whimsy and for making me feel that the surface isn’t flat. Thanks for sharing these.

    janet

    1. Very treacherous Janet. We marvelled that we didn’t see too many tourists with sprained ankles 🙂 Yes, the illusion of motion in the first one is especially exaggerated. Great design and title for the time!

  3. People took pride in their work as tradesmen and these are evidences to their love of beauty and diligence. Goa may not have the mosaics but it still retains some of the architecture of that age and a small taste of Portugal.

    1. True. The cost of repair/replacement must be enormous today though. I agree about Goa Ian. It retains a stronger Portuguese influence as compared to Macau or Brazil. I did not feel the same connection in either.

  4. Oh, thanks for highlighting their history. I would never have thought there was any significance to it in the first place. 🙂

    1. Outside of Portugal, they always felt to me like a sign proclaiming “We were here!” (That sentence would have made a better opening line! 🙂 )

      1. I see…that’s very distinctive of them then..I shall look out for it if I ever get anywhere close 😁

        1. Haha…looks like you have more materials to look into for future posts now…👍😊

  5. I had no idea this was a “thing” – a technique or an art form with a name. I just thought it was the way some cities paved their streets or sidewalks. What a fascinating history, and I love the look also!

    1. Yes, it is remarkable how they have transformed ancient mosaic art into a distinctive cultural symbol. Quite like their blue and white tile craft, also a borrowed art form that morphed into something distinctively home grown.

  6. Carpets in stone! Wonderful. I’m always amazed by the curved intricacies of mosaic. Your photos showcase the variety of design. A pity about your under-utilised evening slip-ons. Obviously they could create a new and unwelcome meaning for that term in the rain.

    1. Ha ha, I was terrified of slipping in them slip ons Meg 😀 We were surprised we didn’t spot more sprained ankles than we did!

      I think it isn’t so much the intricacy of these mosaics as their egalitarian spilling over into the streets even in less perfect execution, that sets Portuguese calcada apart from ancient mosaics.

  7. They are so wonderful aren’t they, and you have captured so many stunning versions. Agree about them being treacherous though, especially when on a slope. I once found myself sliding backwards!!

    Have you read the manual on them? I found it fascinating – if you haven’t there is a link in my Calçada post.

    1. Do you have a link Becky? A search led me to your post titled “Off The Tourist Track” and I found myself wondering why I didn’t explore your blog more before my departure :/

  8. So fascinating! My first Calçada Portuguesa was also the one on Macau’s Senado Square. But I didn’t really notice the absence of the patterns in Goa until you mentioned about it. I wonder why because even in Timor-Leste (obviously poorer and less important than Goa) we saw them.

  9. I loved Portugal and the mosaic paving was beautiful. Your first photo of the waves is stunning, but I’m a mermaid fan so she’s the winner! How are you Madhu, all well I hope?

  10. What time and effort must have gone into laying these mosaic pavements. They are absolutely stunning! Looking forward to seeing them for myself one day.

  11. You have brought to me an amazing piece of history with this post, I’ve never heard of the Calçada Portuguesa but I’ve seen and admired it (Macau being the first place where it caught my attention). Beautiful photos of this art, and thank you for taking me on this tour with you 🙂

  12. STUNNING pictures! I don’t normally use caps but I have to have to emote after seeing these pictures! So gorgeous! I never knew the streets of Portugal could be so pretty and not just the architecture: I am only looking down at the mosaics. Pretty shoes can wait 😀 These look like illusions!
    Thanks so much for sharing an offbeat side of Portugal! Love it!

    1. Thank you very much Agnes. And apologies for the belated response. Spring – late April – mid May is probably the best time to visit the Azores. It is relatively drier, we are told the hydrangeas are in full bloom and whale sightings are more consistent.

  13. Hi Madhu. Fascinating! When I saw the first image, I thought “Rio de janeiro”. Ipanema… A good while ago. But I thought it was developed locally. To “go” with the sea, the waves. So, no. Comes from Portugal, the “motherland”… And you say Macao doesn’t have it? Quite interesting how patterns travel. Hope all is well with you.
    Brian

  14. They are lovely, aren’t they? And what an impressive collection you have, Madhu 🙂 🙂 I’ve slipped and slithered a time or two, I can tell you. And you’ve started me off again- last year I was desperate to go to the Azores and I still haven’t made it. 😦
    Sorry I’m so late here. I’ve been back in the UK for almost 2 weeks (brrrh 😦 ) but it’s not easy catching up with everyone.

  15. Wow, this is like a work of art. Not only is the pavement functional, but these street mosaics are so beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, instead of a drab cement or asphalt.

  16. Big fan of Portugal’s calçadas too! They’re utterly impractical and obscenely expensive to maintain, but absolutely stunning.

    Have a great 2018,
    Verne

  17. I came to wish you a good 2018 Madhu as I realized I hadn’t seen you in awhile. The mosaics are amazing. Happy travels and hope all is well with you.
    Best, Ruth in Pittsburgh.

  18. The visual creativity in Portugal does not cease to surprise us! Our first love remains with the tiled facades of the buildings which is really a fundamental contribution to architectural design. But the streets ~ calzada are yet another richly deserving design feature. We really enjoyed the streets of Lisbon for this reason and looking at your photographs brought back those lovely visuals and then some….. Did not realize how pervasive the practice is. Thanks for a terrific post.

    Peta & Ben

  19. What a sense of observation! The difference between the calçadas of the Açores and the rest of the country is worth knowing.

    1. Thank you darling Jo. Also for the link back to the Brussels post.The blog revamp is sheer procrastination 🙂

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