Culture & Art

May 1, 2016


A motive for world attraction, the Portuguese pavement allows you to literally walk over the oldest public art in the city of Lisbon, without noticing that you are treading stars, fish, flowers, lyres, birds, a QR code, or the face of the "Fado" singer (Fadista in Portuguese), Amália Rodrigues. Recently shrouded in controversy because of its possible extinction, the pavement is considered an art, it evolved over time and has advantages and disadvantages.


In Portugal, the most common pavement of the sidewalks is denominated cobblestone, elaborated by road worker-artists, who flooded the squares and arteries of the cities with their stone seas, especially in Lisbon. This art is born of colour abstraction, makes use of the contrast, emphasizes the design, has an aesthetic and practical sense that never tire the eye, yet it withers away, for lack of zeal and sympathy of those who see it as unsafe and dysfunctional.

These are some of the aspects that are at the root of the controversy involving the Portuguese sidewalk, after its extinction in some places of the capital was recently announced. The proposal of the City Council is to maintain the sidewalk in historic places, and replace it with other decks in locals where it raises problems of mobility, safety, and comfort. Opponents of the measure argue that the problem lies in the lack of maintenance and pavement quality, and they also point out some advantages: lightness, durability, it is reusable and customizable, 100% mineral - resulting in a lower energy impact, adaptable, handmade, leaves no residue, beautifies and dignifies the public space, and doesn´t waterproof the soil - thus contributing to a better water flow.

Internationally recognized as a manifestation of the Portuguese culture, it is also responsible for the creation of the "calceteiros" profession - specialists in this sculptural art, which is increasingly rare. Currently, the City Council has 20 "calceteiros", as opposed to the 400 of bygone times.

From Splendour to Oblivion

Historical heritage of the Roman building culture and technology imposed during the reign of D. João II, in the XIV century, the Portuguese pavement was driven by the governor of the Castle of St. Jorge, located in Lisbon, between 1840 and 1846, Lieutenant General Eusébio Furtado, who, in 1842, transformed the fortress area into promenade. He then used the manpower of the prisoners of the castle, who laid a carpet of small, white limestone rocks, with alternating wavy lines of black basalt stones, set in a zigzag pattern. The feat was so appreciated by the Lisbon residents that, in 1848, the Military Official's project for the "Rossio Square" was approved. The work, called " Wide Ocean" (Mar Largo, in Portuguese) in honour of the "Portuguese Discoveries", has an area of 8712 m², and was made only with white and black "vidraço" limestone, in 323 days.

Most of the Downtown Lisbon streets were paved with basalt, namely the Camões Square in 1867, the Garden of the Royal Prince in 1870, the Town Hall Square in 1876, the Cais do Sodré in 1877, Chiado in 1894, Avenida da Liberdade in 1879, and the Marquês de Pombal Square, in 1908. Between 1950 and 1960, artists such as Abel Manta, Clara Smith and Maria Keil were invited to draw motifs for the "calçada". Ventura Terra, Cassiano Branco and the architect Pardal Monteiro projected parts of the pavement in other areas of the city, such as Saldanha, Avenida da República and Avenida da Liberdade.

The success of the Portuguese pavement led it to its inclusion various world cities: Rio de Janeiro, Luanda, Maputo, Macao, New York, and Caracas, where a traditional Portuguese coating was placed, in honour of the Portuguese poet, Luís Vaz de Camões, in 2013.

The Portuguese pavement has evolved along with technology, an example of this is the QR code (a code that can be read via "smartphone") made in stone, in Rua Garrett, at Chiado, Lisbon, developed by advertising agency MSTF Partners. The code links to cultural and tourist information about the area, the "calçada" history, and a clip with the sound of "calceteiros".

Inspired by the cover of the album "Amalia, Fado's Voices", the street artist Vhils, together with the City Council's road-workers, created the face of the "Fadista" Amália Rodrigues in the pavement. The image appears like an ocean wave that starts from the floor, and goes up the wall. "This way, when it rains, it makes the stones cry", says Vhils, connecting this work of art to the Portuguese traditional music "Fado".

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