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 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
Calçada Of Portugal
Random pavement -Lisbon
Largo de Camões, Lisbon
Largo de Camões, Lisbon
Calçada Of Portugal
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)

 

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

61 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! 🙂 )

  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.

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