Calçada Portuguesa

A functional Portuguese art form

Calçada portuguesa, or Portuguese cobblestone pavement, is a unique and authentic art form of small hand cut limestone and basalt stones assembled one-by-one in beautifully intricate patterns and scenes found everywhere in Portugal and abroad, in its former colonies and in other European countries.

Year:  1498

Inspired by Roman mosaics, the cobblestone pavement developed as we know it today in the 18th century during the rebuilding of the city of Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755. It was an ingenious way of reusing the earthquake rubble -- as Lisbon was covered in limestone and basalt. Stone cubes created decorative black and white patterns adorning pedestrian and public areas without the use of mortar.

Early patterns were designs related to Portugal's maritime heritage. Created by craftsmen called calçeteiros, these included wave and geometric patterns, ships, sea creatures, ropes, crosses, compass roses, crowns, crests and emblems. Later, the mosaic designs changed and these were usually made by architects and artists introducing a more contemporary appeal without sacrificing the beautiful street art.

Today, one can find and admire the most beautiful examples of this mosaic art form all around Lisbon, starting with Rossio square, one of the earliest examples from the mid-18th century.  The plaza of the Monument to the Discoveries draws the most attention, though. Surrounded by a wave pattern is a map of the world showing the routes of the Portuguese explorers. This is the famous "Rosa Dos Ventos", the Compass Rose, of which we recreated a smaller replica to adorn the plaza in front of our museum.

Eventually, this style of pavement spread quickly to most cities in Portugal as well as to the Portuguese colonies. Master craftsmen were contracted to go abroad to work and teach their paving art, creating authentic masterpieces in public spaces.

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