When you book a trip to Lisbon and read all the things in your travel guides you want to see and do, you will sometimes forget that almost everywhere you go or stand in Lisbon, art is literally in the streets.
The streets of Lisbon are often beautifully covered with calçada (small square stones) laid in a mosaic. Everywhere in Lisbon you can see different mosaic patterns of black and white waves, symbols and animals. These calçada are still hand-laid by so-called calceteiros. So, don’t forget to look down when you’re walking through the city.
There was once a castle
In the 19th century, the calçada was laid as a mosaic floor by the prisoners of Castelo de São Jorge gThe pattern was a simple black and white zigzag shape. This way of paving the streets was picked up by writers from that time and soon it became a success to cover more streets this way.
The waves at Rossio
The pavement of Rossio square is called Mar Largo (“wide sea”) and when you walk past or on it you immediately get why they named it that. You can even get a little seasick if you look at it too long and hard. The waves symbolize the meeting of the Tagus river and the Atlantic Ocean.
After Rossio, more and more mosaic pavement was added to squares and sidewalks in Lisbon. It became the most popular pavement in historic Portuguese cities and in the colonies. Ultimately, this form of paving has become famous worldwide.
Where can you find the most beautiful mosaics?
Someone asked me this question recently and I to be honest I have no idea. There are so many different patterns to discover throughout the city, and each pattern fits very well with that part of the city. I think it’s a very beautiful sight in general, all those graceful streets. We do not have a strong favorite here, but some streets and squares deserve an honorable mention.
Cais do Sodré
Praça Duque de Terceira is just outside Cais do Sodré station. At this busy roundabout the white calçada form the pattern in the dark background. And although usually it’s the other way around, this works very well.
When you walk through Rua Augusta for example to shop, the mosaics are almost impossible to miss.
In Belém you can see almost as much beauty on the floor as around you. In the gardens of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos you will find beautiful patterns and depictions of animals. Even more impressive is the square next to Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Just like on Rossio you can see myriads of waves here, with a star in the middle. In that star you see the world map, showing the journeys made by the Portuguese explorers.
Parque das Nações
In one of the newer neighbourhood of Lisbon, Parque das Nações the mosaics adapt to the existing theme of the sea and everything around it. For example, most calçada have patterns of marine animals, such as crabs and seagulls.
When it rains, it pours (tourists)
A small side effect of all these mosaics is that if it rains (and it does so more and more often in Lisbon), the calçada become slippery. When you go out on your flip flops or sandals (without profile) and there’s some rain, please walk carefully.