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. 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.

  2. 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 :/

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

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