Our little town of Biel has a medieval district laced in cobblestone lanes that slope into the foot of the Jura Mountains.
Not all is as it seems. The cobblestones are not genuine from the Middle Ages as is the village. They are in fact the same black-basalt-coloured cobblestone granite pavers you can have laid in your driveway.
We’ve seen these types of pavers throughout Switzerland, France, Italy, Slovakia, Germany and Austria. They are a menace, in that in some places they are creeping in over ancient cobblestone streets because they provide a smoother surface. Nonetheless, they are still preferred over asphalt, which is what you will find in the charming cultural centre of Basel’s old-town. Shame.
Authentic cobblestone streets can still be found: Bratislava has the most beautiful uneven cobblestone surfaces, which unfortunately I cannot find in my photo-files, dang! The only photo I can find is of a 1800s “sett” street. Setts hail from the era when squared and quarried stone became more available and towns started replacing local riverbed stone with the flatter setts.
Even impoverished Bratislava is upgrading, so the old rounded riverbed stones that are of varying sizes and colours are on the way out. They are understandably not the easiest to traverse, rendered as they are into miniature hillocks by the pressures of time, the substrata and, of course, the weight of traffic.
It is perhaps a testament to Europe that its historic districts are far from static museum pieces. They are well-traversed, so its roadways are best if upgraded so that people don’t trip on every other step.
Solothurn, Switzerland is also home to genuine cobblestone, as are any number of tiny Swiss villages. The cobblestones date back to the 15th Century, and were usually taken from local riverbeds, hence each area’s stone roads are a stamp of the region’s individuality. I love the more recently added black paving stones, but they are the same anywhere you go in Europe or North America. I would have imagined they all come from Northern Ontario where black granite is in abundance, but more likely these streets are from China. Check out this supplier.
According to Wikipedia – a not necessarily reliable source of information by the way – some cobblestone roads have heritage-designation and are protected, but I could not get a single government office to verify that.
European cobblestone is not necessarily in danger. It can be purchased where else but the U.S. Here is one California, supplier who will happily ship it to you anywhere you like – maybe even back to Europe.