Tiles are everywhere in Lisbon. They flank windows and doorways, and in some cases even cover the fronts of entire buildings. But I was captivated by the tiles under my feet. Particularly since they were all around, transforming otherwise mundane sidewalks into masterpieces.
These artworks-under-foot were typically black and white mosaics, with designs that varied from street to street, and block to block. Known as Calçada Portuguesa, or “Portuguese Pavement” these mosaic sidewalks are a signature style that can be found wherever the Portuguese settled, from Macau and Malacca in Asia to Rio de Janiero in Brazil. But it is in Lisbon where they are so ubiquitous they simply become part of the street scape.
Technically the designs are made of paving stones, not tiles. Chunky cubes of sturdy basalt and limestone form the mosaic squares, sturdy enough for thousands of feet and durable enough to last centuries. Here are a few of my favorites:
This simple ribbon design highlights the rustic basalt and limestone pavers. . .
The leaf in this corner alcove is offset by a more simple diamond border. Note the bright blue and yellow tiles that adorn the walls. . .
This open and airy lattice design somehow makes walking down the street more fun. It’s sort of like playing Hop-Scotch!
Dappled sunlight seems to tickle the simple scallops here . . .
The upscale boulevard of Avenue Liberdade is enhanced by elaborate medallions.
While the entrance to the Mercado da Ribeira showcases the sailing ship, the official emblem of Lisbon. . .
But my personal favorite (and is there any doubt it’s Michael’s favorite as well?), is this sidewalk outside Pasteis de Belém. In artfully wrought gothic letters the pavers announce to all the world that “herein lies the pastry shop where the world-famous pastels de nata were invented.” And after all that exercise walking over all these historic and beautiful pavers, don’t you deserve a little treat of a custard tart (or two)?
And here is the famous Portuguese treat, pastel de nata, as served warm at Pasteis de Belem. Make sure to sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top for the full experience.