February 27, 2019 getLISBON 0Comment

The art of the Portuguese pavement is one of the biggest attractions of Lisbon. But did you know that there are curious secrets in the Portuguese pavement disguised in the black and white patterns? Let’s find out!

We’ve talked about this peculiar art in the article The Origins of the Portuguese Pavement and Its First Exemplars. This time, we want to focus on this fantastic artistic manifestation and discover in it its unexpected curiosities.

Yes, unexpected curiosities!

If we look closely we can see, hidden in the middle of the eye-catching designs, diverse images that surprise us every step we take.

A bunch of grapes, a bird, a watch, a boat or even a smiling face are some of the curious secrets in the Portuguese pavement that make us stop to admire and wonder about their existence and the men that made them.

If we look closely we can see, hidden in the middle of the eye-catching designs, diverse images that surprise us every step we take.
A bunch of grapes in the middle of the Portuguese pavement design, Avenida da Liberdade

Curious Secrets in the Portuguese Pavement: Signatures or Pure Provocation?

These motifs that surprise us are usually interpreted as signatures from pavers, but a more attentive reflection makes us consider another possibility.

The curious secrets in the Portuguese pavement that we’re referring to are one-of-a-kind figures dissimulated in patterns.

One of the places with a higher number of incidences like these is the Avenida da Liberdade, particularly the section in front of Parque Mayer (theatre venue), very close to the Monument to the Dead of the World War I.

This part of the pavement was completely removed due to the construction of the metro and redone afterwards, which leads us to believe that these interventions date back to the 1950’s.

A figure in the Portuguese pavement design, located near the Monument to the Dead of the World War I, Avenida da Liberdade
A figure in the Portuguese pavement design, located near the Monument to the Dead of the World War I, Avenida da Liberdade

Is there a connection between these figures? Do they have a specific meaning? We might not be able to ever answer these questions. However, we cannot ignore the fact that these figures are virtuous signs of sensibility and fondness for the profession.

A figure in the Portuguese pavement design, located near the Monument to the Dead of the World War I, Avenida da Liberdade
A figure in the Portuguese pavement design, located near the Monument to the Dead of the World War I, Avenida da Liberdade

We believe these are also linked to a provocative, subversive character, in the sense that these clandestine elements, unrelated to the patterns, are a call of attention from these men that considered themselves artists but who were far from being recognised as such.

However, there are indeed signatures that some pavers leave in their work. This is the case of the contemporary pavers Jorge Duarte that signs with a heart-shaped stone and Vítor Graça, who adds the letter V in his works.

But it’s interesting to know who the first men that took up this profession were.

The First Pavers

The first men to do this job were prisoners of the Limoeiro Prison that, because they wore iron rings and chains around their feet, were known as “legcuffs”.

This fact is geniusly portrayed by the realist poet of the late 1800’s, Cesário Verde in his poem Cristalizações.

The appreciation of the population of Lisbon for the extraordinary designs on the pavement, first of the parade ground of the São Jorge Castle (1842) and second of the Rossio Square (1848), wasn’t directly transmitted to the artisans that produced them.

The pavers were simply both condemned and demanded physical resistance to do a hard work that required them to spend long hours in an uncomfortable position breaking stones.

Throughout the time they developed techniques for the production of a good Portuguese pavement. These had several stages: floor preparation, stone laying that avoids posterior deformations of the pavement, finishing and final compaction, among others. All of this requires trained pavers that have mastered rigorous practices.

The Recognition of the Profession

Tribute from the city of Lisbon to the Pavers, Restauradores Square
Tribute from the city of Lisbon to the Pavers, Restauradores Square

Despite the touristic popularity of the Portuguese pavement and a deserved tribute to the pavers by a monument, the profession of paver is still far from being properly valued and thus, not many people are willing to learn this hard craft.

But is this hard work correlated with less sensitive men or with no aesthetic sense? By analysing these curious secrets in the Portuguese pavement that we bring to you and that are spread all over the city wherever the artistic pavement is present, we have to evidently conclude no.

A bird in the middle of the Portuguese pavement design, Avenida da Liberdade
A bird in the middle of the Portuguese pavement design, Avenida da Liberdade

In truth, the paver follows a design previously made, generally by a plastic artist. However, the shape and disposition of stones is determined by the paver, which says a lot about his level of technical knowledge and sensibility that are necessary for this job.

The School for Pavers, created by the City Council of Lisbon in 1986, brought in a way recognition to the profession and seeks to pass on to its students not only the techniques, but also the value that this job has.

This is because there is a huge difference between covering holes with stones that immediately become loose, causing uncomfortable irregularities that pedestrians complain about, and a rigorously executed work that requires well-cut stones that fit perfectly and in this case that constitute one of the best public floors.

We appeal to the appreciation of this Portuguese art that is so much appreciated abroad and already replicated in many parts of the world.

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To finish off this article, we can say that in addition to the curious secrets in the Portuguese pavement shown above, you’ll find other surprises all over the city. Just be on the lookout! 😉

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