It's the rhino's fault
The first Portuguese pavement came about because of a rhino offered to King D. Manuel I, sometime in the 16th century. The animal offered by Afonso de Albuquerque, founder of the Portuguese Empire in the East, became an attraction for the Portuguese, and even for other European people, who had never seen an animal of that species in Europe.
The animal, which weighed around two tonnes, walked through the streets of Lisbon, soiling the places it passed with mud, in this context, the king asked that the streets be paved with granite from Porto, to alleviate the problem. Due to transport issues, granite from Porto was no longer the material used for Portuguese pavement.
The earth shook and the country changed
The 1755 Earthquake was one of the most important historical events recorded in Portugal. The reconstruction of Lisbon and the rest of the country was the priority, leaving the Portuguese pavement in the background.
A century later, somewhere in 1842, Lieutenant General Eusébio Pinheiro Furtado, also an engineer, asked that the Praça do Castelo de São Jorge, in Lisbon, be paved this time with white limestone and black basalt stones with the inmates handling the task. Unfortunately, the aforementioned pavement was destroyed sometime in the 1940s. The success of the work on the Castle of São Jorge led Eusébio Pinheiro Furtado to order the paving of Rossio, in Lisbon a work that ended in 1848. The work known as Mar Largo, integrates motifs linked to the sea and the Portuguese Discoveries, being drawn on the ground, through the paving stones, caravels, and wind roses, among others.
Of the Rossio de Lisboa work, the waves of the sea stand out, a work of art that reached several former Portuguese colonies, the Copacabana sidewalk, in Brazil, being the best known. However, Macau, Angola, Mozambique, and India have a very Portuguese sea in their streets.
A rare profession
Once upon a time, the profession of a paver was seen as being quite noble and respected, however, fewer, and fewer people are interested in starting a career of taking up a pickaxe and outlining designs on the floor of cities. Lisbon even had a school where people could learn this art form.
Where to see the most beautiful pavements
There are several streets with Portuguese pavements scattered throughout the country, with some works being more emblematic than others. Here are some of the best examples you can find of Portuguese paving:
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon
It is in the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that you can find the emblematic compass rose, flanked by the sea type made in Portuguese pavement. In the centre of the compass rose you can also see a world map.
Praça Luís de Camões and Largo do Chiado
Also in Lisbon, just after leaving the “Baixa-Chiado” metro station, visitors will find one of the most beautiful Portuguese pavement mosaics. Around the statue of Luís de Camões, people can again see allusions to the sea and mythical figures, such as mermaids, a clear reference to the work “Os Lusíadas”.
Right next to Praça Luís de Camões, it is possible to appreciate another type of ornamentation, with more abstract forms, but which complements the layout of the street in a very pleasant way.
University of Coimbra
It is at Polo I of the University of Coimbra, opposite the entrance to the Faculty of Law, that one of the most detailed pieces of Portuguese pavement in the country can be found. A design of the University's logo, with the representation of Queen Santa Isabel, accompanies the entry of students to its faculty.
The Portuguese pavement can be seen anywhere in the country. Several cities and towns have motifs on the pavement of their streets. Despite not being the most suitable pavement for walking on with high heels, it is a way to explore and learn about the history of a particular location.