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10/13/11

PORTUGUESE PAVEMENTS

Lisbon's ubiquitous cobblestone designs were first introduced in the 18th century, during the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake of 1755. The apparent inspiration was Roman mosaics, and it was an ingenious way to reuse the earthquake rubble. Lisbon was therefore covered in small limestone and basalt pieces, creating black and white patterns without the use of cement.

It was beautiful and easy, but also artistic which meant it had to be created by master pavers who knew the special technique. Most of the designs were related to Lisbon's maritime heritage, depicting wave patterns (as seen inRossio), ships and sea creatures.

Later, they also spelled out shop names and logos.
The fashion caught on all over the city, spread throughout Portugal, its colonies (it's now also a trademark of Rio de Janeiro's beachfront promenades and of Macau's public squares), and around the world (John Lennon's memorial in New York's Central Park is an example).

Although an important part of Lisbon's identity, it is a dying art, as there are only a few skilled craftsmen left. These pavements are also quite slippery when it rains, and it requires constant maintenance and repair work (not to mention a higher cost than the concrete-based alternative), so it is in danger of just becoming part of Lisbon's history. A massive renovation of Praça do Comércio in 2010 for example, removed the old cobblestone mosaics.

Still, there are many beautiful examples to admire around the city. In addition to the landmark design in Rossio Square, you'll see more covering Avenida da Liberdade, Chiado, and Parque das Nações, with its modern compositions by the Oceanarium.

Photos: Celso Gonçalves Roc2c

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