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The Cobblestones of Prague

 

 by Kate Dernocoeur, guest blogger

During two month-long visits to Prague (Czech Republic), I always enjoyed encountering new and various designs in the ubiquitous cobblestones. I found myself enchanted by them on my first visit (2008), and was able to add to my collection of photos on my second trip in 2010.

 A recent (not-very-sincere) effort to research the art and history of cobblestone design led nowhere. This leaves the subject open to conjecture. In Prague, the most common stones are charcoal and white, although sometimes brown enters the picture as well. Maybe cobblestone art came about as the human search for beauty extended to the most pedestrian place: city streets. I wonder if  the people who I’ll call cobblestone artists have “signature” patterns that they like to use. Maybe shopkeepers sometimes request a certain pattern.

Of course, Prague is just one of many cobblestoned cities, especially in Europe. What a great improvement the concept of cobblestones would have been in the evolution of urban management over time, compared with the sea of mud and dust that would have preceded them.

The many different cobblestone patterns create a delightful mosaic for the eyes! The geometric designs might be small or large, diamonded or squared. Symbols (especially crosses) show up now and then. Sometimes, gifted stone setters create beautiful circular patterns. This has to be very challenging, given their medium: squared-off stones.

Cobblestones are usually about two inches square on the sidewalks, but street stones may be as large as eight inches cubed. The inevitable unevenness of cobblestone leads to various challenges—not the least being how to shoe horses so they can draw carriages without wrenching their legs. Also, on my second tour as a Teaching Assistant for WMU’s Prague Summer Program, one of my workshop participants was an Olympic wheelchair athlete. It took all her strength to manage the streets of Prague (and the city’s still-backwards system of “accessibility”). The bumpy, wheel-grabbing demands of the cobblestones, especially at street crossings, were horrendous for her, and led me to realize how something I viewed blithely was a real burden for her.

 

Many times, I paused to watch repairmen resetting both large and small cobblestones. It is an art that involves careful preparation of the undersurface, the proximal layer being fine, packed sand carefully leveled and smoothed. What looks like an ancient street or sidewalk can be repaired to look just as ancient the next day. I’m happy these cities aren’t defaulting to the (no-doubt easier and cheaper but much less appealing) modern convention of asphalt or concrete. Cobblestones are a distinctly charming and captivating part of my memories of Prague.

 In order to enjoy cobblestones best, I think, a person should wander on foot, and not be in a hurry. Ambling allows full appreciation for the pleasures cobblestones offer. One word of advice, however: I can report with absolute authority that the situation demands good walking shoes!

 

 

 

Kate is pictured here with her friend, Sherry Ramsey. Prague 2010.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

4 Comments
  1. posted by
    Margaret
    May 28, 2012 Reply

    Love this piece on cobblestones…Thanks. It also makes me want to do that Prague to Vienna bike trip I’ve been wishing to do. 

  2. posted by
    Anonymous
    May 31, 2012 Reply

    Kate’s photographs and commentary made me think of Wheatley and chaos theory.
    The tile arrangements reminded me to watch for the loveliness of unexpected patterns in nature.  When the wind was blowing on Sunday, I saw my little forest in back of my house as a dancing full skirt with dips and bends of color and form. Thanks for another mini vacation. 

  3. posted by
    On the Streets of Macau | A blog by Ayako Mathies
    Apr 5, 2014 Reply

    […] saw something similar in Prague though the designs there seemed more geometric and varied.  At first I thought there were so many […]

  4. posted by
    HARGA HERBALIFE MURAH
    Sep 5, 2014 Reply

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of
    your site. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes
    it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire
    out a designer to create your theme? Superb work!

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