This week’s challenge is “Square” but not in the geometric sense, or, well, it could be if you wanted I suppose but it’s meant in the sense of a public space. A Square, a Plaza, a Piazza. Most cities and towns have squares. They are usually in the centre, often in the older section of the city (town/village etc) where people would gather. They often have public buildings such as the Town Hall and churches or Cathedrals and many have war or other memorials or tributes to someone from the town’s past, a monarch or prominent citizen. Some have a market set up once a week or at Christmas. Some, probably most these days, allow vehicle traffic but some are pedestrian only with traffic around the edges. They are used for public celebrations, markets, or just a place to sit and enjoy the sunshine.
Some squares aren’t really squares at all, just a major intersection. Times Square in New York actually encompasses about 10 city blocks around the main “square” which is a huge intersection but it’s still the heart of Manhattan these days. Lots of cities that I’ve been to have more than one large square, but also have lots and lots of little ones, both landscaped and green or paved or cobbled and ringed with shops and cafes and they are lovely to discover when you’re wandering around exploring.
For this challenge, I’ve picked some famous squares and public spaces from the larger cities I’ve been to.
London is full of squares, large and small but probably the best known is Trafalgar Square in the heart of the West End of London. The fountains and massive lions guard Nelson’s Monument. The National Gallery lines the north side of the square, with the Canadian High Commission on the west side. The Mall leads off under a wide stone “gate” up to Buckingham Palace.
Montmartre is the more artsy section of old Paris and this square, Place du Tertre has long been associated with artists who set up here to try to make a living.
While the new Georgian part of Edinburgh has several lovely leafy squares, this one, the Grassmarket, is in old Edinburg and is seated beneath the cliff on top of which looms Edinburgh Castle.
Kongens Nytorv (“King’s New Square”) is one of the main squares in Copenhagen. It’s at the end of the long pedestrian shopping “mile”, the Strøget, and has the Danish Royal Theatre along one side and several buildings used to be palaces. One is now an embassy. Another part of it fronts the famous Nyhaven harbour with the brightly coloured buildings and restaurants. In the center is the statue of King Christiain V on a horse. This is the monarch that laid out the square in 1670. Students celebrate around the square when they get their exam results.
Amsterdam’s main square is Dam Square, with the Royal Palace, a cathedral and other large state buildings surrounding it. It’s also got the National Monument in the centre and is used for holding public concerts, memorials, and celebrations.
Rome… Impossible to pick just one. It’s filled with “squares” and piazzas, many of them very well known. The largest is probably St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City of course. Piazza Navona, a long, narrow square built on top of an old “circus” or race track, with the three large fountains, the most famed being the Four Rivers by Bernini. The Trevi Fountian square is very small and is basically just the fountain and surrounding are for the crowds. There are lots of other squares that are large intersections but always with a fountain or statue in the centre, such as Barbarini, Monte Citorio, Piazza Venezia in front of the Vittorio Emmanuelle II memorial monstrosity, and Piazza Repubblica. Then there’s the busy square in front of the Pantheon, the Piazza Rotunda. That’s probably my favourite even though it’s usually wall to wall with tourists. The square is not that big, and is closed in by buildings housing hotels and restaurants. There’s a fountain in the middle with the dome and pillars of the Pantheon on one end. There are narrow alleys leading into it and the square is cobbled.
Just to add a little Canadian Content..Toronto’s Dundas Square is the city’s attempt at a mini-Times Square I think. It’s ringed with large shopping malls and stores and close to the theatre district as well.
Probably the grandest and most elaborate of squares I’ve ever been to so far is the Grand Place in Brussels. Narrow lanes lead to it from some of the more well-travelled streets. You come around a corner and see this jaw dropping site, a cobbled central square lined with tall, thin guildhouses and several palace type buildings. One is now the Town Hall and the tourist information office is in the ground floor of another. It’s all lit up at night, too. There are restaurants around the square, a chocolate museum (I think) and they use the square for exhibitions and markets and festivals as well.