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. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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