Náměstí Svornosti from Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Náměstí Svornosti is a small, 45 x 60 meter square. Beautiful but unexceptional, grouping a number of houses with Renaissance façades, it has a baroque column and is bounded on one side by the arches of the old City Hall building. The town, called Krumau in German, grew around the splendid castle, whose first historical mention is encountered in a 13thcentury poem. The castle has always remained the focal point, whilst the square held a secondary role, which accounts for its size, also determined by its location on a bend of the Vltava river. But it too remains a key element in the fairy-tale like atmosphere of the settlement, which has become renowned across the world and, thus, invaded by far too many tourists for such a small town.

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Marktplatz from Elburg, Holland

The Elburg square is the result of the intersection of the two main arteries, which reproduces on a much smaller scale the proportions of the quadrangle representing the city map. Elburg has a perfect geometric proportion, thought out in such a manner so that the measures would link to the golden number. The city’s shape, which has been preserved without any changes, grew between 1392 and 1396 and is an exception for the Middle Ages. All the roads are linked to the margin and to the square, which lies exactly in the geometric centre of the quadrangle.

Plaza Mayor from Mogarraz, Spain

Mogarraz is a small, historic settlement in Sierra de Francia, the mountains near Salamanca. The origins of the settlement stem back to the 11thcentury, when it was founded by the Gascons. The village is well-known today in Spain due to the hundreds of portraits of locals, drawn on house walls by Florencio Maíllo, a local artist who began this undertaking in the 1960s, as the settlement became increasingly depopulated. Mogarraze is also interesting for its maintenance of a large part of its older architecture, and because its structure is close to the original one, with an eccentric square, and a fairy-tale atmosphere.

Plaza Nueva from Bilbao, Spania

This is a square filled with life, bars, shops, taverns, terraces, restaurants. Built between 1821 and 1851 in a neoclassical style and surrounded by identical buildings, with three levels and a colonnade, it is called Plaza Nueva, in contrast to the city’s medieval square, and measures 3400 square meters. The functionalist style of its buildings and the absence of rich decoration reflect the ideas of the Enlightenment, for the square was planned at the end of the 18thcentury, although its construction began a few decades later. The first architect of the square was Silvestre Pérez. The space gives one the feeling of a giant yet intimate palace salon. Every Sunday, Plaza Nueva hosts a flea market.

Tavisuplebis Moedani from Tbilisi, Georgia

A true symbol of Georgian independence, this area was named Freedom Square in 1918, during the First Georgian Republic. The name returns after the collapse of the USSR, proudly defining the country’s current identity, strengthened by the golden statue of Saint George defeating the dragon, which was placed here in 2006. It is interesting to note how the successive names of the square perfectly represent the history of Georgia in the modern age. When the square is built in the beginning of the 19thcentury, it is called Erevan or Ivan Paskevich Square – named after the general of the Russian Imperial Army, who conquered Erevan, eventually receiving the title of Count of Erevan. In the time of the USSR it was first called Beria Square, then Lenin Square, with a statue of Lenin dominating the centre until 1991. An interesting look into the dynamics of the urban network of the city: at first, when there was an intersection of trading routes with an inn, rather than a square, this area was located towards the margins of the settlement. The gradual development of the commercial margin of the city eventually becomes a centre, something encountered in many big Western European cities. An especially adventurous historical episode takes place here: in 1907, the square is the scene of a famous bank heist, organised and led by Stalin himself.

Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II from Český Budějovice, Czech Republic

The square is among the largest in Europe and bears the name of king Ottokar II of Bohemia, who, in 1256, founds the town, called Budweis in German. The Black Tower, built in the 16thcentury, and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas are fond in the south-eastern corner. The baroque building of the city hall is in the opposite corner of the square, whilst the central point is taken by Samson’s Fountain, with a very elaborate baroque decoration. 48 houses with coats of arms, a beer factory, and a salt marketcomplete the square.

The squares of Aromanian settlements from The Pindus Mountains, Greece

Legend has it that whenever they wanted to build a village, the wandering shepherds of the Pindus chose a place and planted a tree. If the tree – which they passed by at least twice yearly with their herds – grew well, they would build a settlement there, with the tree as its heart. All of the Aromanian settlements in the Pindus have a square and all of them have an ancient tree at their centre. The locals call the square the plateia, platia, mishori or mesohori. These contain all the important buildings in the life of the community. The church, the school, the fountain, the cafes, all of these are found in the square. Or, rather, they define the square. Where they are the square is as well. It is a spatial, architectural definition, but especially a social and anthropological one, for this is the place where all important community events take place. For this reason, before having an architectural definition, the square has an anthropological definition. These are not squares meant to be seen, but squares where things are meant to happen. Their main function is not aesthetic, but social. And what happens, in brief, is the story of the community, which must function as a whole.

Plaza Mayor from Cáceres, Spain

This is one of the largest squares in Spain and lies right at the entrance of the medieval town. Its origins are found in the 11thcentury, when the space was used for the great traditional holidays. The buildings are from different eras, with all of them having a 16thcentury ground floor colonnade. On the northwestern side, the Bujaco Tower is an eye-catching building, now a symbol of the city. It was built during the Arab rule, on top of Roman foundations. The origins of its name may come from the local word for straw dolls, bujacos.

Marktplein from Bourtange, Netherlands

Today this is a village, with 133 houses and fewer than 300 inhabitants. Yet Bourtange was built as a military fort in 1593, during the Dutch Revolt, on the orders of William the Silent. It held this role until 1851, when it officially lost its defensive function and became populated by craftsmen and farmers. Its initial purpose was to guard the road linking Spanish Groningen to Germany. It is one of the most spectacular star-shaped forts in Europe. The pentagonal plan and its network of canals and fortifications respects the original project. The square stands in the geometric middle and follows the pentagonal shape of the buildings placed within the fort. Its perimeter is perfectly defined by 14 lime trees which are over 300 years old. The square holds the most important houses: the captain’s house, the commander’s house, and the house of the school headmaster, for the placement of its buildings was hierarchical. The Protestant church dates from 1869 and, notably, is situated close to the square but not within the square itself.

Praça de São João from Almeida, Portugal

On the Portuguese side of the border there are even more fortifications than in Spain. Almeida is found in the north of Portugal. It is a star fort with 12 corners, Vauban style, built in 1641. The Spanish only entered here once in all their history, and then with the help of the French. The square is an irregular quadrilateral and is not positioned quite geometrically, just as the star is not perfect, but its role as a centre is obvious when related to the margins of the citadel.

Praça 8 de Maio from Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra is famous for its university, and monumental squares are located in the university area. The city also possesses a small jewel of a square, modest in size but convincing through its balanced proportions and its historical importance. It is Praça 8 de Maio, found in the city centre, in front of the monastery of Santa Cruz, while further on one finds the Câmara Municipal. This small space manages to not be dwarfed by the height and splendour of the Manueline façade of the church where the first two kings of Portugal lie buried. The buildings on the other three sides are just as visible, likewise the central fountain. The contemporary redesigning of the square also contributes to its openness.

Praça do Municipio from Lisbon, Portugal

At a short distance from the monumental Praça do Comérciostands the municipal square, which hosts three important buildings: the Municipality, the Court of Appeals and the Naval Arsenal. It is a small, quiet square, with different rhythms from the Praça do Comércio, which, following the Rua do Arsenal, stands less than 70 meters ahead. Praça do Municipio is equally part of the urban fabric woven from the city’s reconstruction under the guidance of the Marquise of Pombal. This historical detail is enough to make it clear that they must be understood as counterpoints, that is, as parts of a broader, interconnected system of squares.

Plaza Mayor from Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain

The town took its name from count Rodrigo González Girón. It was he who, in the middle of the 12th century, banished the Moors from the region once and for all, and built the town on top of a former Roman castrum, itself once built on top of a Celtic settlement. The solid fortifications speak of the position on the frontier with Portugal. Paradoxically, although one of the most well defended European borders on both sides, this frontier is the most stable in all of European history and has remained virtually the same for 500 years. The only fighting to take place here was with Napoleon’s armies. Nowhere is the relation between square and margin more obvious than in such citadels.