The Ground we Tread on | LISBON

I have never before found myself in a place, that has the power to uplift the spirit by purely looking at paving.

Lisbon, however, possesses this power.

Fot.1 Mar largo (high seas) paving pattern at the Praça Dom Pedro IV ‘Rossio’.

It is as if one is stepping over a work of art. It asks to tread carefully, be amazed by the intricate patters and careful workmanship. It is said, that the patterned pavements are as much a part of Lisbon’s heritage as an after dinner glass of port or of ginjinha for that matter.

I have first entered into the realm of Calçada Portuguesa at the Avenida da Liberdade. It is the grandest thoroughfare in Lisbon, magnificently tree lined and constructed after the terrible 1755 earthquake as part of a truly urban revolution with the need of expanding the city.

The Avenida is the most beautiful and emblematic sequence of carpets in Lisbon.

It starts with a display of a classical motifs in rectilinear frames. Then it transforms into more organic forms, inspired by an Art Nouveau aesthetic with the omission of the frames. The transition is made so fluently, that the difference in style is almost non noticeable to an untrained eye. The rhythm of the patterns and the proportions are the same through the whole length of the Avenida da Liberdade making it an harmonious piece of art.

Fot.2 Avenida da Liberdade, classical paving.
Fot.3 Avenida da Liberdade, Art Nouveau motif.
Fot.4 Art Nouveau motif close up.
Fot.5 White limestone & black basalt paving.

Not far from the Avenida da Liberdade sits the most famous public square in Lisbon, the Praça Dom Pedro IV, most commonly known as Praça do Rossio.

It has originated as a pattern developed from a simple, yet vibrant zig zag pattern at the prison yard at Castelo de São Jorge in 1940, both laid by the prisoners themselves and initiated by a Lieutenant-General Eusébio Cândido Furtado.

Fot.6 Mar Largo paving pattern.
Fot.7 Praça do Rossio, as seen from above.

The pattern of the Rossio paving is known as Mar largo – high seas and is characterised by a spectacular pattern of black basalt and white limestone waves, laid parallel to each other creating an optical illusion that vary according to the viewer.

The paving suffered many alterations including a significant reduction in size and quantity of the decorative paving, reduced to a small area around the King Pedro IV statue, circa 1925 and stayed this way until approximately 2003 when the Mar largo has been replaced, but this time without the original intricate boarder full of classical motifs.

The wave pattern have been reproduced around the world, most famously in Rio de Janeiro, by Roberto Burle Marx at the Copacabana promenade.

Down from Alto towards the waterfront of Tagus and on route to the market (Mercado de Ribeira) and the Cais do Sodré station lies an interesting square, Praça Duque da Terceira.

Some say that its main feature is the statue of the 1st Duque da Terceira (Duke of Terceira), one of the most significant military leaders of Portuguese Liberal Wars that lasted about 6 years (1828 to 1834).

However, the paving pattern itself, forms an exquisite example of the white mosaic pattern laid on a black background, which is exception to the rule in Lisbon. The beautifully interwoven stylised flowers and lines of Moorish ornamentation have been laid in white limestone embellished by a black basalt background, unique in its appearance.

Fot.8 Exceptional example of white on black paving at the Praça Duque da Terceira.

Fot.9 Rua do Alecrim, Belèm.

Another beautiful example of this style can be found in the Belèm district at Rua do Alecrim, where star shaped mosaic glows above the black basalt background.

It is nicely suited to the area featuring many beautiful tile panels and an old fashioned factory that uses hand painted and glazed tile reproductions of antique designs.

Fot.10 Limestone stars on basalt background.

Interestingly, where the black basalt have been replaced by black limestone the artistic effect is not as striking. The move has perhaps been driven by cost and speed as the limestone is softer and therefore easier and cheaper to work with. However, it has its down side, as it is more susceptible to  the influence of the weather and turns pale blue after several years.

Fot.11 Checkerboard paving pattern in Belèm.
Fot.12 Black and white limestone pattern.
Fot.13 View towards Cordoaria Nacional.

During the thirties and forties the Calçada Portuguesa became very popular. The intricate designs were part of architects scope of work and the forms characteristic of modernist architecture became the norm, with few exhibiting intricate forms borrowed from Art Deco. 

Many interesting patterns are visible at the Praça do Império constructed for the 1940 World Exhibition. It is probably one of the most attractive and most popular squares in Lisbon. It was designed by Conttineli Telmo, and the huge garden located in its centre is the work of Gomes Amorim.

Fot.14 Praça do Império, Belèm.

The main feature of the Praça do Império garden is the Luminosa – lit grand fountain and the typical Portuguese stone paving decorations of the Zodiac signs at the main entrances and a coat of arms.

The garden itself is bound by olive and white cedar trees with shrubs and flowers representing ancient provinces. The garden was constructed in a classical style similar to the Greek and Roman landscapes. It was built in time for the 800th anniversary of the Portuguese Independence.

Fot.15 Zodiac pattern representing fish sign at Praça do Império garden.
Fot.16 Lilly pond at Praça do Império.

Fot.17 Classic black and white limestone.
Fot.18 Zodiac pattern at Praça do Império.

Fot.19 Padrão dos Descobrimentos.

Just across the road, sits the  Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Discoveries Monument) built on the north bank of the Tagus River to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

What is really interesting is the pavement in front of the monument. It is decorated with a mosaic that was offered by the South African government in 1960, representing a compass rose (Rosa dos Ventos) with the map of the world charting the routes taken by the Portuguese explorers.

The compass rose is constructed from beautiful pink, ivory and black marble surrounded by the famous pattern of limestone Mar Largo. Here, the pattern changes to alternate colours within the wave itself. An interesting take, perhaps, but somehow unnecessary.

Fot.20 Modern take on Mar Largo pattern at Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
Fot.21 Mar Largo and Rosa dos Ventos interface.
Fot.22 Marble variation of Rosa dos Ventos.

Fot.23 Variation if the famous Mar Largo pavement.

Fot.23 Limestone mosaics at the site of Expo 98′.
Fot.24-26 Site of Expo 98′.

Although beautiful, there is much more to Lisbon’s limestone mosaics that meets the eye. The stone-setting in Lisbon has been a skill handed from generation to generation and in order to preserve this ancient art a stone-setting school have been established. The school trains the paver (calceteiros), to maintain the limestone surfaces in the city as well as create new designs.

A true paving revolution came about when Lisbon became a host of the Expo 98‘ world exhibition. The theme for the artists was ‘The oceans-a heritage for the future’ and huge areas of the Expo 98′ ground were to be paved. A new way of making the template have been developed specifically to accommodate the amount of design and the short timeframes for delivery of the work on site. Instead of traditional wooden templates, the new templates were designed digitally and printed in full scale onto a fibreboard.

There are many more examples of paving patterns and mosaics in Lisbon. Some of the more recent modern designs are not only simpler, arguably rather boring and indistinctive in their pattern designs. These also incorporate other materials like concrete, gravels, marble, even brick pavers and granite perhaps chosen for its durability. Where limestone is used it is usually of larger sizes and of the same colour, predominantly ivory. The pure lightness of the limestone paving makes Lisbon a ‘white city’, it is also good for the planet reflecting the sun and minimising the albedo effect.

What is striking and perhaps very obvious here, that if the materials are used inappropriately, perhaps replicating something of strong origins, then it just simply doesn’t work and makes the beautiful combination of the natural stones of basalt and limestone insignificant and unfitting.

Perhaps, if a designer wanted to make a statement a simple injection of colour would be more suited.

Fot.43 Pink Street – Rua Nova do Carvalho.
Fot.42 Take on Japanese garden in a courtyard at the Centro Cultural de Belém.

It is needles to say, that the topic of paving in this beautiful city is vast and ever expanding. There are so many examples of paving patterns and combinations in Lisbon itself, that one would need at least a week to explore them all and trust me, it is worth it.

Here, at FRUS Studio, we have also been inspired by our trip to Lisbon and many encounters with the different paving patterns we have seen. And, yes, we have created our own pattern.

The shape is a modern take on the Mar largo wave and takes its origin from the letter ‘S’ on our logo design. The intention is that the wave is created from ivory limestone on black basalt background to visually contrast with its surroundings. Perhaps one day, we will test in on site in Lisbon.

Figure 1. FRUS Studio paving pattern design inspired by Calçada Portuguesa.