Why I love Portugal #28

calçada 1

If I were poetically inclined (which I emphatically am not), I could write an ode to Portuguese sidewalks. Hand laid using squared stones, they are a delight to the eye even when they’re a uniform color. In fancier areas such as main avenues and plazas, they’re even better, dressed up with patterns formed by darker stones.

In addition to the aesthetics, these sidewalks are far more porous to water than cement, leading to less runoff and much happier city trees. (The down side: heavy rainfall can often dig the sand right out from under the stones, creating dips and tripping hazards that no lawsuit-fearing American municipality could possibly afford.)

Laying sidewalks is hot, monotonous work. This is the first time I’ve seen a worker using a shade umbrella.

calçada 2

An experienced stonelayer can make rapid progress. He picks up the stone in one hand, lays it in place, sets it with a tap of the hammer, and is already reaching for the next stone. A group of them working together sounds like a percussion exhibition.

When I go back to the States for a visit, one of the culture shocks that invariably hits hard is the ugliness of the sidewalks. Flat, featureless slabs of industrial gray cement — ugh. I had never given thought to sidewalk aesthetics before moving to Portugal, but once you’ve lived with beautiful sidewalks, you’re ruined for anything else.

(Click the images to embiggen.)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in culture, Portugal. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Why I love Portugal #28

  1. Ines says:

    I usually wear flat shoes but my mother is a fan of “anywhere else” sidewalks because the heel doesn’t get stuck. However, I love our “calçada portuguesa” and I have to admit I’ve seen them working under a sunshade as well, and funny enough, it was also in Algarve but in Lagos 🙂

    • oregon expat says:

      I am awed by women walking these sidewalks in not just heels, but stilettos. Frankly I have no idea how they do it, but they sure have my respect for their inhuman abilities.

  2. JBrandao says:

    Since you seemed to forget to post an actual photo of portuguese sidewalks, I took the liberty to get a link for a picture of one (coincidentally here in Aveiro) http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/50820/calcada3-mod.jpg

    For the non-portuguese 🙂

  3. Alma says:

    You’d like the sidewalks in the older parts of Stockholm. 🙂 They’re laid with cubes of granite or basalts (since those are the most common Swedish stone types) in much the same fashion as the calçadas. Lacking in color variation, they make up for it with different patterns, such as fan shapes.

  4. M. says:

    Um… I have a feeling I have to see yet a city in Europe without these squared stones sidewalks/streets, well, at least in the eldest parts…

    • oregon expat says:

      In the eldest parts, yes. But not in new construction. I’ve yet to see a sidewalk in Portugal, old or new, that wasn’t a calçada.

      • M. says:

        You are absolutely right, in newer parts of town we use cheaper materials than stone. So probably it doesn’t count 🙂
        …like this:

  5. JR says:

    Oh…I just learned something. All those Modernist pavements in Brazail that we studied in school, like Roberto Burle Marx’s promenade at Copacabana Beach, or the curvilinear footprint of Aterro do Flamengo, draw on Portuguese patterns. It seems obvious, I suppose, but I’d never really thought about it before, since they weren’t installed until the 1960s or 1970s.

  6. Erik says:


    Check this out.



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