Portuguese pavement

Portuguese pavement (Portuguese, "Calçada Portuguesa"), is the traditional paving used in most pedestrian areas in Portugal and old Portuguese colonies such as Brazil and Macau. Being usually used in sidewalks, it is in plazas and atriums this art finds its deepest expression.

One of the most distinctive uses of this paving technique is that of the Copacabana beach sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro, designed as a black-and-white waves pattern.

Origins

Paving as a craft is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia, where rocky materials were used in the inside and outside of constructions, being later brought to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

The Romans used to pave the "vias" connecting the empire using materials to be found in the surroundings. Some of the techniques introduced then are still applied on the "Calçada", most noticeably the use of a "foundation" and a "surfacing".

Arab presence in the Iberian Peninsula left traces in the art of paving. To provide much needed water to crops, the Moors engineered a complex system of dams and waterways. Examples of the latter, known as acequias, can still be found in Portugal and Spain.

Setting the stones

Upon a well compacted trench of argillaceous materials, craftsmen lay a bedding of gravel, which will accommodate the stones, acting as a cement.

An unsure future

Very few workers ("calceteiros") will admit to enjoying this arduous labour, where long hours are spent painstakingly laying the stones in a prostrated position. Low wages fail to attract apprentices.

Paved sidewalks also present hazards to pedestrians and unpleasant barriers to people with physical impairments. These pavements can be particularly treacherous when they are wet, presenting a glassy, low grip surface that can contribute to slips and falls. Moreover, the surface is prone to breaking up, and in doing so, presents dangerous trip hazards.

This method of paving has a high cost and reduced longevity in comparison with concrete-based or bituminous alternatives. They are, however, relatively easy to excavate (in order to access buried services) and reinstatement is almost invisible - not something that can be said for homogenous surfaces that are left with unsightly patches as witness marks to previous interventions.

Once an activity performed by hundreds of craftsmen in Portuguese cities and villages, traditional paving is increasingly becoming restricted to conservation works or important architectural projects. Less abundant materials, dwindling numbers of craftsmen and criticism to its widespread use are forcing municipalities to consider other alternatives.

The Brazilian city of São Paulo is currently reforming the sidewalks of its Paulista Avenue, one of the places in town that has Portuguese pavement, and exchanging it for a more cheap and common type of pavement.

Calçada as a form of art

References

* [http://fozibercalcada1.no.sapo.pt/ Portuguese pavement and its histories] (Portuguese language)


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