Plaza Mayor from Salamanca, Spain

The construction of this square began in 1729, by order of Phillip V, with the square primarily intended for bull fights. Today, it is seen as one of the most beautiful squares in Spain and in the whole of Europe. The space offers a paradoxical optical illusion. From the ground it appears to be a perfect quadrangle, but when seen from an aerial photo, the shape is irregular. The baroque façades of the building, which surround and define the square’s perimeter, seem perfectly symmetrical at first glance, but in reality, none of them are the same height. Entire books have been written about this square in Salamanca, and, to this day, it is considered the absolute model of Spanish squares.

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

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 from Štramberk, Czech Republic

Like in many other small, out of the way places, the square is called just Square. Náměstí in Czech. And Štramberk is yet another example of a place where the town is its square. Aside from the row of houses that define its perimeter, only two or three streets are added to the map. A cylindrical tower, called Trúba, remnant of a castle about which few things are known, dominates the settlement, perched up on the wooded hill nearby. Everything reminds one of a fairy tale, from the forests, to the castle and the square, with a large number of wooden houses from the 18th and 19th centuries also adding to the local cultural heritage. The land where Štramberk lies is called Valašsko, from the name of the populace migrating here in waves, along the Carpathians, from Transylvania and, perhaps, from Bukovina. If the language of the Vlachs has been lost along the way, and they were slavicised, some customs survived for a time and traditional building techniques were transmitted, taken and adapted by the local craftsmen, either Czech or German. The wooden houses clearly remind one of wooden Romanian architecture from Transylvania. A number of local settlements had such centres, but the wooden houses have been replaced by stone ones, usually Baroque in style. At Štramberk there is the largest number of Vlach style wooden houses, as they are called here, leading to an interesting architectural reservation. The square is also linked to the preparation of local cakes called “Štramberk ears”, which, by law, can only be made here. It is said that they have been called thus because the people of medieval Štramberk thought that they were similar to the ears of captured Tatar soldiers, during the time of Tatar raids.

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