Wismar, a Baltic Sea port, flourishes during the 18th and 19th centuries as part of the Hanseatic League. With a size of 10,000 square meters, Am Markt, the city’s main square, is one of the largest and most beautiful in northern Germany. The buildings show a wide variety of styles, from 14th century red brick houses – typical for the late northern Gothic – to the neoclassical façades or the early 20th century Art Nouveau. The central point of the square is Wasserkunst, a fountain with a rich metal decoration brought from the Netherlands in 1602. The viewer may also be impressed by one of the red brick patrician houses, called Alter Schwede, which dates from 1380 and is one of the oldest of its kind.
In 1716, the troops of Eugene of Savoy conquer Timișoara from the Turks. The Austrians decide to build here one of the greatest bastion-fortresses in Europe. Its fortifications would be demolished in the 19th century, but the two very beautiful squares, built in the typical Central-European style, remain.
Baščaršija dates back to the 15th century, when İshakoğlu İsa Bey, the Turkish governor of Bosnia, builds Sarajevo. In keeping with the Oriental urban tradition, the cities have no square but a bazaar- this is what Baščaršija means and it was the commercial, administrative and cultural heart of the place. Here, mosques were built, along with shops, a library, a clock tower, inns. When the city becomes part of Austro-Hungary in 1878, the new rulers desire its transformation into a European city. A fire helps with the architects’ plans and the central space of the bazaar, dominated by a minaret in the 16th century, becomes a square. Today, it is unofficially known as “Dove square”.
The Grote Markt was originally a square on the outside of the medieval city, a place where northern and southern traders would exchange wares. In 1220, duke Hendrik I van Brabant regales the space of the square to the community. This will become the city centre. The present shape is the result of successive modifications, most of them unplanned. But the result is fortunate: regardless of corner from which the square is approached, it does not immediately reveal itself fully, but only progressively, like a gradual deepening of space. The homes of the guilds form two sides of the square, while the Renaissance building of the city hall – on the UNESCO list – lies to the south. The cathedral, although situated in the neighbouring square, can be seen from any vantage point. In the middle, the Brabo fountain, built in 1887, tells the legend of the city’s founding.
Called Zlabings in German, and first mentioned in 1260, Slavonice lies one kilometre from the Austrian border. Its geographic position might be the reason its architecture has survived to this day. After expelling the German population in 1945, the town, now too close to the frontier, is deliberately left deserted by the new authorities, with no Socialist apartment building to be found. In later years, it was renovated and transformed into an art colony. Looking even further back in time, the local architecture was once again preserved when the flourishing town was removed from the trading route uniting Prague to Vienna, which made it so that the Renaissance architecture and the initial plan would remain in that particular development phase. The town’s plan is atypical, with two interconnected squares. One of them, called Peace Square, is triangular whereas the other, called Upper Square, is elongated and has the church as a central point, surrounded by houses. A large number of buildings from the late Gothic and Renaissance periods are practically intact, with many façades decorated with a special type of sgraffito.
Kruševo, or Crușova in Aromanian, is the tallest town in the entire Balkan Peninsula, located on Bushova mountain. The architecture is interesting and atypical, midway between Europe and the East. The town was built by wealthy Aromanians, forced to migrate after Moscopole was burnt down by the Ottomans, along with Slavs from the mijak group, who were very skilled in house-building. The central square brings together different traditions. The name comes from a Turkish word, meaning centre. The spatial organisation also has European elements, for the great European capitals were familiar to local wealthy traders.
The urban structure dates from the time of the town’s greatest economic growth, under Venetian rule. As in many coastal towns, the square is also a port. Here one finds the city hall to the west and the stock market to the east. On the northern side, the church of St. Nicholas has the highest bell tower on the Adriatic coast. A so-called ‘balota’ stone marks the place where the port-square ends and where the church square begins, proving that the way the space was structured was very important for the community.
The Old Square and the New Square lie on different margins of the town, almost symmetrically positioned in relation to the geographical centre, which is completely atypical for the Middle Ages. Despite their name, the dates when they were built are probably not far apart. Alter Markt is first recorded in 1277, when a document calls it a forum, while Neuer Markt is recorded less than a decade later, in 1285. The old square has always had a main role, but the two are similar in many respects, whether through shape, surface, and even function. Isolated among the waters, with red brick Gothic churches, Stralsund is a splendid medieval, Hanseatic town on the Baltic Sea.
Schwerin’s Am Markt is the very definition of a square. A quadrangle with almost equal sides in the geographical centre of the city, it has held this central spot since the beginning, bringing together all the important buildings, from the cathedral to the city hall, dominated from a distance by a fairy-tale like castle. Strict trading rules, dating back to the time of Henry the Lion, have governed the square so that the city might enjoy economic growth. Every kind of trade had a well-defined place. For instance, fish could only be sold on the northeast side of the square. Butchers had to have covered stands. Only local traders and craftsmen were allowed to trade their wares in the market. After 1171, foreign merchants were allowed in the city on a specific day of the year.
Piazza Grande or Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia is the largest square with a view to the sea in the whole of Europe, measuring almost 17000 m2. Although separated by a road and a promenade, the square and the waters of the Adriatic seem to blend together when the passerby gazes at the space from the other side of the square. There lies the Fontana dei Quattro Continenti, the point towards which almost all the important roads of the city lead to. Only two flag masts frame the perspective.
The history of the square begins in 1252, with the building of a first Palazzo Comunale, but its current look is much newer, reflecting the changes in the second half of the 19th century, when the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the monumental buildings that define the square’s perimeter are built after 1858.
Piazza Paolo VI is Brescia’s main square, as well as the largest, is part of a greater square system. It dates from the medieval period. Here one finds the Duomo Vecchio and the Duomo Nuovo, as well as Il Broletto, the city hall building. But the most beautiful of the squares in Brescia is the neighbouring one, Piazza de la Loggia. Its origins date back to the Renaissance, when, in 1489, work on the Loggia is begun under Filippo Grassi, in the most authentic Venetian style. All the buildings in the square are its visual subordinates, mirroring its arch. On the opposite side, one notices the Torre dell’Orologio, whose colonnade ensures the transition towards Piazza Paolo VI. The astronomical clock in the tower dates from 1546. Piazza della Loggia holds three of the four “talking statues” of Brescia, where the inhabitants voice their grievances about the way in which the city was governed by leaving notes on these statues.
First a Celtic, then a Roman, then a Slavic settlement, and then administered by the Turks, Vidin is dominated by the Danube. The square is new and perfectly typical for the Socialist Realism period. At its centre lies a monument dedicated to the soldiers of the 3rd Vidin regiment, who perished in the Second World War.
Città di Castello is found in an ancient Umbrian settlement, on the fertile banks of the Tiber. The town, maintaining a large part of the buildings raised during its period of flourishing, is unusual in that it has two central squares. Equally important throughout its entire history, Piazza Gabriotti and Piazza Matteotti, once called Piazza delle Donne and Piazza Vitelli, were known by the locals as Upper Square and Lower Square. The cathedral, found in Lower Square, has a cylindrical campanile and bears the name of a local bishop, San Florido, who was sanctified and seen as a protector of the town. In the 6th century, San Florido supported the rebuilding of the settlement after the destruction by the Ostrogoths. The City Hall building dates from the 14th century and is the work of Angelo da Orvieto, who built the Palazzo del Podestà in the neighbouring square. The Torre civica is the symbol of communal power.
It seems the Roman forum once stood on the site of Plaza del Mercado, which became the centre of the community at the end of the 11th century when the region was repopulated. In the Middle Ages, it used to be a plaza porticada, a square bordered by columns, with a weekly fair, as well as corridas and religious ceremonies. The square was the site of royal receptions but also beheadings. In the 15th century, in front of the San Juan church, in the presence of Torquemada, converted Jews were burnt at the stake. Plaza del Mercado Chico is an interesting case representing the fight between secular and religious power. The existence of the San Juan church on the southern side of the square resulted in the church claiming half of it. In the end, the city council voted for building a regular square in 1770. The construction was slow going, only finalised in 1870, with a line of columns masking San Juan, and transforming Plaza del Mercado Chico into a City Hall square.