PORTUGAL’S FAMOUS ‘Calçada Portuguesa’ is deteriorating in Lisbon because highly qualified and skilled stonemasons are disappearing. Constant road works taking place in the city, coupled with cars parked on pavements are also factors contributing to the poor state of this traditional art form.
The worn out and chipped cobbled designs are now so bad that the Câmara has been flooded with complaints about the dreadful state of the city’s legacy. “The condition of these designs are dreadful,” laments Luísa Dornellas, the person responsible for the Câmara’s training department. “The problem is that this used to be a traditional skill and, today, we just can’t find young people willing to learn it, so it is dying out.”
Today, in Lisbon, there are no more than 27 fully trained stone layers with the skills needed to create the beautiful patterns, which grace the Baixa and Belém districts.
Lisbon Câmara says it has a ‘calçada’ school, which was opened in 1986, to address the problem (previously, the skill was handed down from father to son). It used to run eight courses with a total of 112 students when the school opened, but most of the cobble layers have been poached by private building firms that can pay higher wages.
Traditionally, Calçada Portuguesa was part of the state heritage and patrimony, and was always appreciated by tourists visiting the country. Today, immigrants from the Ukraine or Romania are just as likely to be seen carrying out this ancient skill, which was originally brought to the country by the Romans.
And there is only one woman today in Lisbon trained in the skill. Maria de Lurdes Baptista, 42, says she is proud to be the only woman ‘calceteira’. “Even though it is difficult work, seeing the beautiful results makes up for it and I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” she said.