Posted by Rich Mancini on 4/25/2013
The name comes from “cob,” an Old English word that meant – among other things – “rounded lump.” But from the 15th century on, “cobblestone” has referred to the smooth, often rounded stones that were commonly used to pave roads centuries ago. Whether it’s tucked away in some out-of-the-way neighborhood or the main boulevard of an ancient city, to me, there’s nothing cooler than an old cobblestone street (although true “cobblestones” – those protruding rounded ones that were particularly tough on feet and wagon wheels – are few and far between today). I’ve encountered many over the years, and they never fail to transport me to another time. So I thought it might be fun to (briefly) share a few of my favorites… from New England to Europe.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Yes, there ARE real cobblestone streets in the States… I start with Philly primarily because its beautiful cobbled lanes in the city’s heart – like little Elfreth’s Alley, lined with centuries-old brick facades, and the streets around Independence Hall – were the first I ever set foot on (and the scene of my first horse-drawn carriage ride, too… nothing beats the sound of horses’ hooves on cobblestones…).
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – Little cobbled lanes wind their way throughout Mozart’s charming Baroque hometown, many lined with shops boasting those wonderful wrought-iron guild signs… just perfect.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – A city as old as Istanbul (it was Constantinople for close to 1,500 years) is bound to have some great old streets, and we found one in a quiet little corner not far from the Archaeological Museum in the Eminönü district, running along the ancient city wall…
BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA – Cobbled streets seem to be everywhere in the ancient capital of the relatively young Slovak Republic, especially through the pedestrian-only center; some are narrow and many centuries old, while others, fairly recently installed, are punctuated with whimsical bronze statues like Cumil (“Man at Work”), popping out of his manhole to peer at visitors.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – Lined with stunning buildings representing many centuries, Prague’s narrow cobblestone streets, particularly prevalent through Hradcany (the Castle district) and Old Town, offer the perfect image of “Old World Europe…”
HAVANA, CUBA – You’d think that the 1950s American cars and 16th-century buildings that share the cobblestone streets and squares of Habana Vieja would clash somehow, but not so… in fact, they seem in perfect harmony along these smooth stones in the city’s ancient center, which no doubt Hemingway stumbled across a time or two after frequenting his favorite local bars…
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Although most of what folks call “cobblestone” streets in Beantown are actually paved with rectangular 19th century “setts,” beautiful, brick-house-lined Acorn Street in Beacon Hill is the genuine article… true cobblestones from centuries past.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – Let’s close with a bit of Southern charm… and another honest-to-goodness cobblestone street, one of the few left in this historic city – Chalmers Street. As legend has it, a ride down the bumpy surface of what Charlestonians came to call “Labor Lane” coaxed many an overdue baby to make his or her entrance into the world…