By Yi Huang
Recently, I had the chance to travel to the Azores, a volcanic island chain located roughly 1,600 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. Far away from the streets of continental Portugal, the Azores felt like a snapshot of a time long past - a simpler life. Although known more for its lush greenery and yearlong mild climate than as a cultural experience, I found the majority of the quaint scattered towns to be a pleasant pit stop amidst the hiking and natural sightseeing. When I did stop in the larger cities (by Azorean standards at least), what fascinated me most was not the use of whitewashed plaster, red clay tile, and pitted volcanic stone in its structures, but rather what lay below my feet.
Portuguese Calcada, also known as Portuguese stones, is a traditional type of pavement used in various pedestrian paths. The process is time consuming and has to be done manually, but the final effect is quite spectacular. Various uniform types of local white and black stones intermingle to form a flowing mosaic tapestry of countless shapes and designs.
Bringing character and life to even the most remote side alleys, it was an adventure in of itself to find and document the various patterns. (In this case, these paths were located in Ponta Delgada, the administrative capital). Starting on the outskirts, the pattern would be more subdued, with minimal patterns but still consisting of the white and black stones.
As you got closer to the city center, the patterns would turn noticeably more elaborate, sometimes with a unique pattern on each side of the street, and even as the road itself.
Once you arrived at any type of gathering space or square, the patterns would erupt into a fantastic display of geometric shapes and patterns, signifying the arrival of a place of interest. It would be fascinating to see an aerial view of one of these cities and document the patterns from a bird’s eye view, seeing how one pattern flows into another.
Sadly, as the labor and skill required for this type of urban art become more and more uncommon, fewer new roads are being paved this way. The profession itself is at risk as newer and more cost effective paving methods are preferred over this time-consuming method. Eventually, as these roads weather from time, they will get paved over with a fresh coat of asphalt and nothing will remain of the civic artwork that lied below.