Trg Herceg Stjepana from Herceg Novi, Montenegro

Herceg Novi (Castelnuovo in Italian) is not new as the name claims, but rather quite old, for it was founded in 1382 on the site of a fishing village by the Bosnian King Stephen I, which is also the name of this town’s central square. The Turks conquered the town in 1482 and remained there for two centuries, with a brief Spanish interlude. The town came under Venetian rule in 1687, then passed to Austro-Hungary. After that, Herceg Novi was temporarily ruled by Napoleon, the Russians, and Mussolini, and then became part of Yugoslavia. Its history, though not in its entirety, can be found in its square. It is paradoxical square, for it was built in a typically Italian style, with a splendid Orthodox church in the middle, surrounded by palm trees. Unofficially, the name of the square is Belavista. From there the sea is visible, as well as an Ottoman clock tower, a Spanish fortress, the bell tower of the Catholic church and the lower part of the city.

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 13th century 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.

Marktplatz from Elburg, Holland

Elburg’s square is the result of an intersection between two main arteries, and reproduces on a much smaller scale the quadrangular shape of the city. Elburg has perfect geometrical proportions, thought out in such a way that its measurements link to the golden number[MOU1] . The city, whose shape has remained unchanged, was built between 1392 and 1396, and is unusual for the Middle Ages, as all of its roads are linked both to the city’s edges and to its square, which lies exactly at the geometric centre of the quadrangle.

Praça Francisco Rodrigues Lobo from Leira, Portugal

This square has an important role in the social and economic life of the Leira community, for it is filled with cafes and terraces, where numerous events are organised. The square’s pavement is considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal. In medieval times, the square held seasonal fairs.


Náměstí Přemysla Otakara II from Český Budějovice, Czech Republic

This square is among the largest in Europe, and bears the name of King Ottokar II of Bohemia, who in 1256 founded the town, called Budweis in German. The Black Tower, built in the 16th century, and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas are found in its south-eastern corner. The Baroque City Hall building lies at the opposite corner of the square, whilst its central point is occupied by Samson’s Fountain, featuring elaborate Baroque decorations. Completing the square are 48 houses with coats of arms; a beer factory; and a salt market.

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 16th century 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-shaped fort with 12 corners, Vauban style, built in 1641. The Spanish only entered there 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 viewed in relation 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 Comércio stands 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

This town took its name from Count Rodrigo González Girón. It was he who, in the mid-12th century, banished the Moors from this region once and for all, and built this town on top of a former Roman castrum, itself built atop a Celtic settlement. Its solid fortifications speak to its position on the border with Portugal. Paradoxically, although it is one of the most well-defended European borders on both sides, this frontier was the most stable in all of Europe’s history and has remained this way for 500 years. The only fighting to take place here was against Napoleon’s armies. Nowhere is the relationship between centre and periphery more marked than in such citadels.