Paved by History

You think guides and internet research can help you discover Portugal’s attractions? Think again. It may not be featured in Portugal’s touristic attractions, but chances are, you will be been stepping on a piece of art from the moment your feet hit Portuguese ground.

Traditional Portuguese pavement is regarded by many as an art form. It is unique in its style and a reflection of the country where it was invented. Through the Portuguese colonial empire it would leave its mark on several parts of the world.

The first-ever reference made to this striking pavement can be found in a 1498 Royal Decree issued by King Manuel I. The document mentions the need to create a proper pavement in the streets of the city of Lisbon. The purpose of this new innovation in urban design was apparently to allow the King to make a parade on his birthday with his mascot, a white rhino. The brand new mostly-white pavement in basalt stone, would replace the usual dirt roads of that time, thus allowing the King and his rare pet to show off in glamour without dirtying his garments.

Fast-forward a few centuries, more specifically to the gruesome year of 1755: after the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, the city of Lisbon was shattered. It wasn’t just a matter of rebuilding; the city needed new streets, preferably paved. In a context of urgency and shortage of materials, workers came to recover bits and pieces of the former buildings, usually made from basalt and limestone and would use them to create new pavements. This act of early recycling would allow the city to recover much faster and to find a new urban solution for itself. The inspiration for this technique, it is said, came from the Roman mosaics and it proved to be a clever way to convert the wreckage from the earthquake.

Portuguese pavement in its current form, using black and white stones and forming mostly geometrical patterns, started becoming mainstream in the mid-19th century. While the number of motifs used was relatively limited, with time, pavement artists became bolder, more modern and inventive which reflected in their designs.

Today there are many examples of Portuguese pavement around the world. Some of the most exotic and famous include the Minnie and Mickey Mouse drawing in the Azores islands, the world-renowned Calçadão (promenade) in Copacabana Beach in Brazil, the Saint Queen Elizabeth pattern in the city of Coimbra, the Senate Square in the island of Macau, while other examples can be found in Gibraltar, Mozambique and even in the John Lennon Memorial in New York City.

So before heading to the Tourism office to ask for the new hot attraction in town, take some time first to discover the attraction you likely already have at your feet! Pun intended.

Find several itineraries to discover this amazing piece of history in our public page and start customizing one of them today!

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