Soon after the Plaza Mayor was built in Madrid, its design was copied by other cities, even ones very distant from the capital. The Plaza de la Corredera in Córdoba is the only quadrilateral square in the south of Spain and Andalusia, developed by the architect Antonio Ramós Valdés of Salamanca. In 1683, on the site of an esplanade, which historically had been a Roman circus, and subsequently a trading area during the city’s Muslim era, he constructed a giant, semiregular quadrilateral, slightly smaller than the one in Madrid.
After it was built, the square was used for various purposes, serving as the grounds for temporary trade fairs and an arena for corridas, from which its current name originates. In the area beneath its ground floor arches are the so-called esparterías shops that sell traditional objects braided from plant fibres. Antique shops have existed here for nearly a century.
This square bears some of the ambiguity of the meeting point of the Orient and Europe. This is not a single square, but rather two squares brought together and identically named. Between the Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmet Camii, known as the Blue Mosque, lies a square with a fountain at its centre, often called Ayasofya Meydani, although the official name is Sultanahmet Meydani. It is a market-garden, built on the spot which held the Augusteion, the Roman forum of Augustus. Paradoxically, the long square between the Blue Mosque and the Museum of Islamic Art keeps the name Sultanahmet Park, although it is less of a park than the neighbouring square. There is no place in the world that brings together so much history. The obelisk of Theodosius the Great is, in fact, Egyptian, and was brought here in 390, from Luxor. Sculpted in Aswan granite, it was built in 1490 B.C. for the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III. The serpentine column was brought in 324 to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, where it celebrated the victory of the Greeks against the Persians. Cast from the alloy of the Persian weapons and melted down by the Greeks, it is now 2500 years old. Another obelisk was built in the 10th century by Constantin VII. One must also add the “German fountain” built in 1900 to mark the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Then, there is the Art Nouveau façade, with the Oriental features of the building, which is now houses the rectorship of Marmara University. The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia define a side of the square. On the opposite side, the Museum of Islamic Art is found in the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. A marble column marks the kilometre zero of the Eastern Roman Empire, still visible in the north-eastern corner of the square. And that is not all. The square is, in fact, the arena of the Roman hippodrome.
From a bird’s eye view, the old town of Split resembles a rectangular box into which someone has placed buildings, streets, and markets. Beginning in the Middle Ages, two of the larger markets in this citadel played a key role in the history of the city, Narodni Trg, or Spalato in Italian. The People’s Square, called simply Pjaca by the locals, was first mentioned in the 13thcentury, and has a number of superb Gothic buildings. A bit further on, at the entrance to the citadel, lies Trg Braće Radić, called Voćni Trg by the locals, meaning “fruit market,” in reference to its earlier, colourful identity. Just outside the medieval walls is a third great square, Republic Square. Its more recent architecture reminds one of Venice’s San Marco. It was built in the mid-19th century, in a historiciststyle, demonstrating that Split, long under Venetian rule, still carries on this tradition. These are beautiful squares, each with its own marked individuality, but the oldest and most interesting of the Split squares by far is Trg Peristril, which is smaller, yet considered by locals to be the historical heart of this area. Its history is special. Originally, this square served as the interior courtyard of a palace built for the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305, across a huge surface measuring 300 square meters. In fact, half of the old city of Split lies within the palace walls, the most well-preserved Roman palace today. After the Romans abandoned it, it remained uninhabited for centuries, until the people of Salona used it when taking refuge from the Slavs, turning this former palace into their settlement. And a settlement it shall remain. John of Ravenna, the first local archbishop, oversaw the transformation of the Diocletian mausoleum into a church. This was the moment when the palace courtyard officially became the Cathedral square, with all of the functions of a medieval square. Changes were made to it, but some features were kept, including its red porphyry columns.