Trg Andrea Antico from Motovun, Croatia

The Andrea Antico square in Motovun is the only flat place in this tiny hill town. The Etruscans were not the only ones to build hill towns, for they are also quite numerous in the Istrian peninsula, in present-day Croatia. Motovun, or Montona in Italian, is the most beautiful of all such towns, with narrow streets and good use of its space. Its double fortifications and its urban structure date from the Venetian period. This small square appears much larger than it actually is, in comparison with the rest of the town.

Plaza Mayor from Valladolid, Spain

One of the largest in Spain, the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid has a perfectly rectangular shape, with a length of 122 meters and a width of 82 meters, establishing a 3 x 2 proportion. It is the first square of its type built in Spain, closed and with a regular plan. It will serve as the model for the central square in Madrid, built in 1617, and for the one in Salamanca, built in 1729, where the Valladolid architectural and urban pattern reaches its perfection. A long series of squares in Spain and South America are inspired by these latter two, thus indirectly pointing to the square in Valladolid.On the 21st of September 1561, a widespread fire engulfs Valladolid and burns for three days. The disaster is nonetheless a chance for applying new urban ideas. The project of the new square follows the principles of Renaissance balance and symmetry. The square is thought as a closed, rectangular space, completely hollow in the middle, with entrances through porticoes. The architect Francisco de Salamanca projects identical, mirror façades. Behind them there are living spaces for the functionaries and the members of the guilds. On the ground floor, all around the square, one finds a colonnade.

Ploshcead Sveti Aleksandar Nevski from Sofia, Bulgaria

Immediately after 1878, when Bulgaria gained its independence, plans began for an imposing cathedral to be built in Sofia. The foundation stone was placed in 1882, but the cathedral was only finished by the middle of the 20th century. It was dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, in memory of the Russian soldiers. Around the cathedral, one of the first modern squares in the Balkans began to take shape. It is a space with great symbolic significance, for it also holds the more modestly sized church of Saint Sofia (4th-6th centuries), which is delightful in its age and proportions, and which has given the city its name.

Am Markt from Wismar, Germany

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.

Baščaršija from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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”.

Grote Markt from Antwerp, Belgium

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.

Republic Náměstí Míru and Horní Náměstí from Slavonice, Czech Republic

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.

Cearshia from Kruševo, Republic of North Macedonia

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.

Trg Sveti Nikole from Perast, Montenegro

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.

Alter Markt and Neuer Markt from Stralsund, Germany

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.

Am Markt from Schwerin, Germany

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 dell’Unità d’Italia from Trieste, Italy

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 and Piazza della Loggia from Brescia, Italy

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.