PORTUGAL. One of the most famous features of Portuguese culture — and sometimes the cause of the occasional fall when it rains — is the Portuguese pavement, or calçada portuguesa. The Portuguese pavement is characterized by irregular cube shaped stones made of white and black limestone that form decorative patterns. It’s a symbol of Portuguese pride. Moreover, the love for this pavement crosses the Atlantic, where it exists on some Brazilian and North American streets. Why, then, is the Portuguese government considering its removal from the most central areas of Lisbon?
Last month, the Lisbon City Council approved the Pedestrian Accessibility Plan which aims to eliminate accessibility barriers by 2017. The goal is to facilitate mobility for everyone, including disabled people, along the streets of Lisbon and, a measure that quickly ran through the Portuguese media as an object of criticism. There is apprehension over the replacement of the famous pavement by other less dangerous types of walkways in certain areas of the city. Over the years, the mosaic stones have been damaged, mostly by traffic, and some are even loose. The truth is that today its maintenance is expensive.
However, both the Portuguese and those abroad love these contrasting mosaic walkways, and the seaside city wouldn’t be the same without them. The Portuguese pavement is considered to be a national symbol and part of the Portuguese identity. It’s mainly used on streets, sidewalks, in parks, and squares all over the country, and dates from the beginning of the XIX century.
In 1842, the entire area of Rossio Square, one of the most central areas of Lisbon, was paved using this mosaic technique. This type of paving technique quickly spread to the Portuguese colonies and was associated with fashion and taste. Portuguese pavers working abroad combined functionality and creativity to create masterpieces. During the XX century, there was even a school for the Portuguese pavers to specifically apprentice and prepare for this once prestigious profession.
Calçada portuguesa can be found in other lusophone countries like Brazil. For example, you can find this style of pavement in Rio de Janeiro at the famous Copacabana beach promenade — designed by Roberto Burle Marx — and at the Central Avenue, where the mosaic stones are not only black and white but also red and blue.
If you visit Portugal, keep your eyes, literally, on the ground to appreciate this historical Portuguese tradition that continues to impress both locals and international travelers alike!