Piazza Pio II from Pienza (Italy)

Perched on a hill top in Tuscany, Pienza was originally called Corsignano. Pope Pius II loved his hometown greatly and wished to transform it into a concrete example of his theories on the ideal city. For this purpose he hires the arhitect Bernardo Rossellino and gets directly involved in the planning. Influenced by Alberti’s writings, Pius plans to raise a uniform and self-sufficient city around the central square. Yet as he dies in 1462, the urban sketch of the city that takes his name stops there, with only 40 buildings finished. In the heart of the “ideal city”, Bernardo Rossellino had managed to implement a trapezoidal square, which represents the first attempt at urban renewal in the postclassical period.

The space is not large, yet the illusion of greater dimension is created through its shape and through the drawing of the pavement. The final effect is that of a scene bordered by important buildings. Palazzo Vescovile forms the east side. On the opposite side stands the papal palace. The city hall lies to the north and Rossellino chose a Florentine model for its tower. Two other buildings form the northern side next to the city hall. The square is dominated by the façade of the cathedral, built on the small side of the trapezoid, so that its dimensions are lessened in order to not end up overwhelming the square, for the Pope did not aim to build a city of monumental but of human dimensions. Everything was carefully calculated, and the construction of the church took the motion of the sun into account. Inspired by Austrian cathedrals bathing in natural light, the Pope asked that the church not respect the traditional west-east alignment, but to be set in such a way so that the sunlight might pour in from the southern windows. The church is lined with the tip of Mount Amiata, an extinct volcano. The southern windows of the church make its peak visible, but the peak itself is not visible from the square. This leads to an interesting perception reversal: the interior of the church creates the sensation of a wide open space towards the landscape, while the square barely offers access to surrounding nature, suggesting instead the feeling of an interior space. The two open and narrow spaces in the square, on the cathedral’s sides, are the first Renaissance examples of viewing rural landscapes from within a town. In this respect, it represents a break with traditional medieval squares. In order to see the landscape, one must reach the very end of the square.

Various details from the façade of a building reappear on another façade in the square, the rectangular shape of the façades is a scale copy of the shape of the windows. The windows at the upper level of the papal palace are one of Rossellino’s inventions, a combination between the Roman cross and the Tuscan rose window. The cross reappears as a detail on the windows of the Palazzo Vescovile and the rose window reappears in the design of the city hall’s windows. Archways and circular details, grouped in threes, repeatedly appear on the façade of each building, The travertine grid and the red brick pavement mirrors the series of compartments on the church façade and are lined with the pillars, doors and corners of all the buildings in the square. In the middle of the square there is a travertine circle, and the distance from the circle to the door of the church is equal to the distance from the base of the church to the occhio, the typical round window from the façade of the church. This is not the only “coincidence”, for the square respects a geometry that is based on the numbers 3, 5, 9. Moreover, it was found in the early 2000s that the shadow of the cathedral lines perfectly with the pavement grid in certain moments. Specifically, 11 days after the solar equinox. It was known already in the 15th century that there is a 11 day difference between the used calendar and the astronomical one. The calendar reform was highly controversial within the Catholic Church, since Easter is calculated according to the equinox. Pieper, who observed the lining of the church shadow with the grid, believes that the square was initially supposed to represent this on the very day of the equinox. Thus, the construction was began, but the project was reconstructed so that the alignment would take place on the official day of the equinox. When the modification was decided, the construction of the square buildings was already underway. Redrawing the pavement grid would have led to discrepancies with building details, so the only solution was found in further raising the roof of the cathedral. This is confirmed since the Albertian proportions on the church pediment are not respected. It is a mystery that the details of the reconstruction, as well as the story of aligning the cathedral’s shadow to the drawing of the pavement, make no appearance in the Pope’s extremely detailed diary.

Piazza Castello from Marostica (Italy)

Every two years, in the second week of September, Maroustica hosts a chess game. The place of wooden figurines is taken by living people, and the score board is the very square of the tiny medieval town, whose pavement was thought out especially for this purpose. For this reason, the Maroustica Piazza Castello is also called Piazza degli Scacchi. The story goes that, in medieval times, two young nobles, Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallanora, fell madly in love with Lionora, the daughter of the local lord. The custom of the time demanded that the girl’s fate be decided through a duel. But the father does not wish to make enemies, he wishes no blood spilt, so he forbids the duel and proposes a chess game in its stead. The winner was to become the husband of the coveted Lionora. The loser would not lose, but instead win the hand of the younger daughter, Oldrada. Of course, the story has no basis in historical fact. Not one of the characters in the story ever existed, just as there was no chess match in the medieval Marostica, a town called in the local Venetian dialect, Maròstega. But there was a writer and an architect called Mario Mirko Vucetich from Dalmatia, who imagined the entire story right after the Second World War. And the local chess club found it proper to consider the story true and to organise, every two years, a competition with living people as chess pieces in the scenic square and with real medieval origins of the tiny town of Marostica, from northern Italy.

Piața Sfatului from Brașov (Romania)

Already from the 14th century, markets were constantly held in Piața Sfatului in Brașov and produce were exchanged. Back then it was called Marktplatz. The space is dominated by the building Casa Sfatului, built in 1420. It not only offers the centre of the square, but also an interesting chromatic counterpoint, through a light colour, to the nearby Schwarze Kirche, the Black Church, visible from the square.

Žižkovo náměstí from Tábor (Czech Republik)

In a side of the square lies the statue of Jan Žižka, a leader of the Hussite movement, one of the few military commanders in the history of the world to have never lost a battle. Today, his name is found in the square in Tábor. Situated on a hilltop, with the square right on the summit, and near the lake called Jordan, after the biblical river, the city was founded in the spring of 1420 as a centre of the Hussite revolutionary movement. Initially regular, it later had the tendency to develop organically, and the shape of the square points to this. The streets have been designed in a zigzag on purpose, so that the enemy would have a hard time reaching the centre. Although it is hard to see in the photograph, the square is sloped, which adds a new dimension to its space.

Praça do Comércio from Lisbon (Portugal)

The square owes its existence to the great Lisbon earthquake of the 1st of November 1755 and the fire that followed. On this spot, left empty due to natural disasters, a new regular city is built, as a result of reconstruction efforts coordinated by the Marquise of Pombal, the leader of the royal government.

Praça do Comércio appears on the place previously held by the court of the royal palace, Terreiro de Paço, a name still used for the square, with a side open towards the Tejo, the greatest river of the Iberian Peninsula. At 175 x 180 meters, the size of the square is huge, among the biggest on the European continent.

Plaza de la Corredera from Córdoba (Spain)

Soon after the Plaza Mayor is built in Madrid, its model is taken up by other cities, even those most distant from the capital. The Plaza de la Corredera in Córdoba is the only quadrilateral square in the south of Spain and Andalusia. Its aspect is owed to the architect Antonio Ramós Valdés of Salamanca. In 1683, on the spot of an esplanade, where, throughout time, one found a Roman circus, and then a trading area in the Muslim period of the city, he builds a giant, semiregular quadrilateral, yet somewhat smaller than the one in Madrid.

After being built, the square was used for various purposes, from temporary trade fairs to arena for corridas, from where the current name originates. In the shops beneath the arches on the ground floor lie the so-called esparterías shops that traditionally sell objects braided from vegetal fibres. For almost a century now, antique shops can also be found here.

Domplatz from Passau (Germany)

The urban structure is dictated by a geographical position, one of the most spectacular in a European city. Passau is situated on a spit of land, at the confluence between the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz, each with different coloured waters. The Domplatz lies at the highest point of the city. An advantage, for Passau is threatened by flooding every year. The square takes shape in 1150, and from 1155, due to the donation of the bishop Konrad von Babenberg, it becomes property of the cathedral, with the condition being that clerical houses should be built on its free sides. The 14 buildings which appear thus are affected by the great fires of 1662 and 1680, and then rebuilt by Italian architects in the late baroque style. In 1824, the statue of Emperor Maximilian I of Bavaria is placed in the square. Thus, for the first time in its history, the square becomes a public one and wins the status of official town square. It is redeveloped after 2013. The pavement disappears, replaced with fine gravel, pointing to past historical eras. The lighting is spectacular, one of the most accomplished in Europe. It focuses on the façade of the cathedral, leaving the square and the rest of the buildings in half-light. It is a subtle dark-light game, a game of the past, when cities did not have public lighting, with the future. The effect is that of a scene from a Baroque play

Sultanahmet Meydanı from Istanbul (Turkey)

The space of the square has something of the ambiguity of the meeting between the East 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, there is 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 hosting the rectorship of the 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. The kilometre zero of the Eastern Roman Empire was marked by a marble column, 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.

Trg Peristil from Split (Croatia)

Seen from above, the old town of Split appears like a rectangular box in which someone has placed buildings, streets and markets. Two of the markets in the citadel are large and, starting with the Middle Ages, had a key role in the history of the city, called Spalato in Italian, Narodni trg. The People’s Square, simply Pjaca for the locals, is mentioned already in the 13th century and has a number of superb gothic buildings. A bit further on, at the entrance in the citadel, lies Trg Braće Radić, called Voćni trg by the locals, meaning fruit market, in remembrance of her old, colourful role. Just outside the medieval walls there is the third great square, Republic Square. Newer, its architecture reminds one of the Venetian San Marco. It was built in a historicist style in the middle of the 19th century, in order to show that Split, long under Venetian rule, carries on the tradition. There are beautiful squares, each with a marked individuality, but the oldest and most interesting of the Split squares is by far Trg Peristril, smaller, yet seen by the locals as the historical heart of the area. Its history is special. In the beginning, the square was the interior courtyard of the palace built for the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305, on a huge, 300 square meter surface. In fact, half of the old city of Split lies within the palace walls, the best preserved Roman palace to survive to our time. After the Romans abandoned it, it will remain uninhabited for centuries, until the people of Salona take refuge from the Slavs, turning the former palace into a settlement. And a settlement it shall remain henceforth. John of Ravenna, the first local archbishop, decides the transformation of Diocletian’s mausoleum into a church. It is the moment when the palace courtyard officially becomes the cathedral square, with all the functions of a medieval square. Changes take place, but some features are kept, including the red porphyry columns.

Trg Sveta Eufemije & Trg G. Matteottija from Rovinj (Croatia)

The history of the city is tied to Venice, but Rovinj was built much earlier, at the start of the 8th century, on an island separated from the land through a narrow canal. Much later, in 1763, towards the end of Venetian rule, the community silts the isthmus and the city is united with the mainland. Through a classic process of synoecism, a new system of markets takes shape right on the spot of the old canal. They are four in number, and the most important is Trg G. Matteottija. Most of the buildings here are from the 19th century, but they celebrate the past link of the city with Venice, even recreating the lion of San Marco on the city hall’s pediment. The main square of the city remains Trg Sveta Eufemije, found at the highest point on the hill. Free on three sides, it gazes out to the sea, dominated by the 60 meter campanile of the basilica, with the statue of Saint Euphemia at the top, rotating in the breeze.

Tartinijev trg from Piran (Slovenia)

Giuseppe Tartini, author of the well known Il trillo del diavolo, was born in this city, then called Pirano, part of the Republic of Venice. The Piran square bears his name, and the birthplace of the composer can be found on a side of the square, the difference being that, at the time of his birth, the place looked completely different. The Tartini Square was not always a square, but, at first, an unloading dock for the boats and vessels fishing in the Adriatic, found outside the citadel walls. In time, palaces and beautiful administrative buildings begin to rise near the piers. As the importance of the place grows, the authorities decide the silting of the golf in 1894 and the building of a true square. Two years later, Tartini’s statue is unveiled here, thought of as a focal point, and the square, dominated from the hill by the Saint George church and with a campanile identical to the one in Venice, is a harmonious and lively space, with a proper and accomplished balance of form and proportion.

Prešernov trg & Mestni trg from Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Prešernov trg was a simple crossroads at the entrance of the medieval city, where, in 1646, a Franciscan monastery is built and which stands to this day. In the 19th century, the crossroads is paved and starts looking like an urban square. The end of the same century brings about a radical transformation, for, due to the earthquake of 1895, the old houses are replaced by Neoclassical and, later, by Sezession style buildings. In 1980, the Slovenian architect Edvard Ravnikar creates the current circle design of the pavement, which lends a special note to the square: a sun, on a granite background, with rays made of Macedonian Prilep marble. A triple bridge, Tromostovje, across the Ljubljanica, ties the square through Stritarjeva ulica to the old square of the city, found at the foot of the hill where the castle is, right next to the cathedral. The city square, Mestni trg, is dominated by a fountain built in 1751. The two squares, although they have not been planned together, and although they are each partly the result of later redevelopment, represent an unexpectedly coherent and suggestive urban whole.

Hlavné námestie from Košice (Slovakia)

Hlavné námestie means Great Square in Slovak, but the early history of the city and of its central square is tied to German colonists, who arrive here at the middle of the 13th century, on the invitation of King Béla IV of Hungary. The city of Košice, called Kaschau in German, Kassa in Hungarian, Cașovia in old Romanian chronicles, existed at the crossroads of great trading routes linking the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, Poland to Transylvania, the east to the south of Europe. The urban space is rigorously structured. Three parallel roads follow the north-south direction, and the middle one becomes progressively wider towards the place where it meets the main east-west artery, thus giving birth to special, lens shaped square. The lens shape is due to the building of the square in the space that used to function as a trade fair. The trade fair existed in a widening of the road, halfway between the castle and the abbey, before any other building. The shape is also due to uniting, through a typical process of a synoecism, two distinct settlements before the 13th century, whose border was the square of the present. In the middle, right at the intersection point of these two axes, the German colonists raised a parish church. Its place is taken in the 14th century by the Gothic cathedral of Saint Elisabeth, to this day the largest cathedral in Slovakia. The tower of Saint Urban, containing a seven tonne bell, and the chapel of Saint Michael, both Gothic and built in the 14th century, flank the cathedral, resulting in a unique and unitary whole. The theatre, a Neo-Baroque jewel, was finalised in 1899. The Gothic houses, the Renaissance and Baroque palaces, Art Nouveau buildings define the perimeter of the square. The contour of the old walls is clearly visible in the circular track of nearby streets. The lens shaped square from Košice is the largest and most coherent urban ensemble of its kind, typical for eastern Slovakia.

Náměstí Zachariáše z Hradce from Telč (Czech Republic)

Founded in 1354, on the spot where, in a thick forest, two roads crossed next to waterways at the border between Moravia, Bohemia and Austria, Tel, called Teltsch in German, has the misfortune of experiencing a great fire two centuries later. The city is quickly rebuilt following the old plan, but with modifications which take into account the evolution of building styles and techniques. The Gothic castle is remade in Renaissance style and the lofts are built for the houses in the square. The houses receive painted façades, then later replaced in the 18th century with rococo and baroque ones. The medieval Gothic arch on the ground floor remains unchanged. It is continuous, all the houses in the square are united by it. Two churches will be built and a plague column will be dedicated to Saint John Nepomuk, flanked by two fountains. Towards the end of the 18th century time suddenly stops in Tel, with the end of its glory age and of its economic development. The city reaches our times without changes, unaffected by industrialisation and, through some miracle, without socialist blocks. It is straight out of a book of folk tales. The map of the city is practically synonymous with the triangular square. One step outside of it carries you to the yellow canola fields of the Bohemian hills.