Juan Antonio Orellana is a stone pavement expert. He started his career in 1990 at a small construction company in Loja and the surrounding villages. This company was involved in many construction projects and jobs including constructing ‘Granadino’ stone pavements (empedrado granadino). When he began, there were already workshops dedicated to making this particular type of stone pavement. These workshops started appearing in Granada as early as the XIX century. His current workshop is in Loja, although in reality most work is done on site, so its more like a storehouse than a workshop.
The Origins of the stone pavement
The first culture to use stone pavements was the Aegean culture (Neolithic Period 1600 -1000 BC). First the Greeks, then the Romans decorated their buildings with beautiful mosaics composed of small pieces of coloured stone called tesserae.
The type of pavement found in Granada is derived from the Roman tessellations but it was conceived in Arab culture, with the Umayyad dynasty being the first to create it and use it in the independent Caliphate of Córdoba (Century IX – XII). The materials used to form these pavements were naturally rounded little rocks (with a diameter of 5 cm) mainly obtained from riverbeds.
The first creations during the Umayyad’s dynasty were geometric compositions using darker rocks to fill in the decorations. The Umayyads were copied by the Nazarites, descendants of Nasridas who were early settlers of what later became the Kingdom of Granada. In Granada, however, white and black stones (those found in the ravines and rivers of Granada) were used to create the stone pavements. This is what makes its ‘empedrado’ special and unique.
The Materials and Workmanship
The main materials that he works with are mortars – a homogeneous mixture of cement and sand, stone pebbles or limestone for the infill and slate for pattern formation or decorative motifs. The selection of materials is both important and very basic at the same time. On one hand, you need to find a material that is long-lasting and able to stand the wear and tear of both people and vehicles. On the other hand, the material should be physically and chemically stable, so that can´t be damaged by rain, and can cope with chemical elements that can be present on the streets of any city.
The stones used to construct these typical Andalusian stone pavements are white and black stones, and they are gathered from ravines and rivers in Granada. These stones are used because of their uniform consistency and because their form makes them suitable for setting into the mortar in the street. They are also very rich in quartz, which doesn´t allow salt and humidity to enter, and their edges are rounded by the passage of time, which makes them ideal for street construction.
If they had not been paved, the streets would have been muddy and in the past it rained much more than now. The choice of stone for pavements over other types of material was mainly because the stones were easily found in rivers and streams in the area, and they were free. Besides which, these stones are suitable for making a flat surface and they are comfortable to walk on. There may be other materials used to create these pavements in Andalusia, such as marble, but stones taken from ravines and rivers are the main materials used.
Finally, both locals and tourists seem to appreciate and like these stone pavements. They think of them as a symbol of Granada and Andalusia and they find them very characteristic of Andalusian culture and traditions.
Several steps are needed in order to create a stone pavement:
- The sand and cement are mixed in the following proportions: ½ of sand and ½ of cement.
- The mixture is spread out in the place where the stone pavement is going to be laid.
- The layer of dry mixture is smoothed and the motif is drawn on with a finger.
- The stones are placed to form the motifs and the background infill.
- The whole thing is flattened with a piece of wood in order to leave all the stones at the same level and then it is covered with a mixture of sand and cement and smoothed off until the result is homogeneous.
- Then water is sprayed very carefully to avoid removing the cement.
- The stones are cleaned with a brush and left in such a way that they just stand out from the mortar.
- Finally, the stones are washed carefully with a sponge in order to remove all the cement stains.
Nowadays not many artisans work as stone pavement experts (only about 30 in the Andalusian region). Juan’s main clients are private clients, however in the past he also worked for city councils. With his job, he can barely pay for his food and monthly expenses. Since most clients are private clients, the majority of work is carried out directly in their private homes, chalets, courtyards etc. When he works for city councils, he mainly works in squares, pedestrian streets and footpaths. In the latter case (public spaces) there are no restrictions applied in terms of the choice of patterns: Juan is free to choose the patterns and decorations himself. Since the work is generally done on smaller areas, Juan usually works alone.
In Juan’s case, the family continuity has unfortunately been lost. However, he has taught his craft to students that are currently working in this field. He doesn’t officially hold the title of teacher but he knows his profession very well and in Spain and in Andalusia, about 20 years ago, the administration created a “School Workshop” (“Escuelas Taller”), where the teachers were professional builders and carpenters etc. who taught their skills and passed on their knowledge to students who learnt the trades in these workshop schools. All of these Escuelas Taller have now disappeared.
So what is the future of this profession in Spain? “Just as for all the artisan professions, it will only continue to exist if there are still people who value and appreciate the workmanship and the unique qualities of work by hand. However, because of the spread of new materials it might be even tougher in the future.” Juan explains.