Piazzas, Plazas, And Squares
Piazzas, Plazas, and Squares have a special allure. They are a place to meet and greet, to chat, to linger over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and an ideal spot from which to observe the theater of life in a city.
- Place Jmaa el Fna – Marrakech- Morocco
Lined on all sides by restaurants, and stores selling nuts, dried fruits, olives, cookies, and freshly squeezed fruit juices. For centuries this square at the heart of the Marrakech Medina has drawn musicians, magicians, dancers, snake charmers, and story tellers. When darkness sets in, row upon row of food stalls are erected, and it becomes a glittering diner’s paradise. The mouthwatering aromas wafting across the square make it impossible to resist partaking in the feast.
- Piazza del Campo – Sienna-Italy
At the heart of the walled, Tuscan, medieval city of Sienna, lies the irresistible Piazza del Campo, famous for its Palio delle Contrade. A pageant that harks back to the Middle Ages, it’s a horse race which draws huge crowds every summer on July 2nd and August 16th. The jockeys, who represent the 17 districts of Sienna, race bareback around the square in a race that lasts a little over a minute. On regular days, people congregate in the square, relax over a glass of wine and antipasti at a trattoria or meet at the Fonte Gaia (The Fountain of Joy).
- Plaza de Armas – Cusco – Peru
When I think of Plaza de Armas, I think of October, blue skies, puffy pillows of white clouds, flowers in full bloom, and dancing fountains. At the plaza’s center, atop an impressive two-tiered fountain stands the statue of Emperor Pachacuti, whose bronze cloak coated in a fine layer of gold, shimmers in the sunshine. The plaza is watched over by the 7th Century Cathedral Basilica de la Virgen and La Compania de Jesus. Colonnaded walkways house an array of boutiques, restaurants, and cafés. The entire setting is wrapped in the surrounding Andean Mountains, which are dotted with houses clinging to their slopes. If you can snag a window table at the second floor Café Cappuccino, you will be treated to an unforgettable view.
Rynek Glówny – Krakow – Poland
Rynek Glówny has been the hub of Old Town Krakow since the 13th Century. Measuring 650 ft x 650 ft it’s an impressive medieval square (the largest square in Europe) that pulses with life much as it did hundreds of years ago. People meet; shop; nurse a cappuccino, a beer or a glass of wine in one of the bars, cafés, or restaurants; while being entertained by buskers. Horse-drawn carriages provide a link with the past. At the center of the square stands the grand Cloth Hall where merchants traded textiles 700 years ago, while shoemakers, tanners, and farmers set up their stalls outside the hall. After suffering significant damage in a fire, Cloth hall was rebuilt in the mid-16th Century in the Renaissance style. Today it’s a souvenir shoppers delight.
The historic buildings that ring the square house outdoor cafés and a selection of international stores among them Zara, Benetton, Michael Koors, and the like. Plan on spending a few hours visiting this remarkably preserved square, where old and new blend seamlessly. Explore the alleys that surround it. Visit St. Mary’s Cathedral where the bugler plays from the highest tower on the hour every hour.
Red Square – Moscow – Russia
The grand-daddy of all squares, Red Square is grand, imposing, and full of history. This is not a square lined with cafés and restaurants; it’s a walking square. It’s bordered on one side by Gum (pronounced Goom) department store, which extends 242 meters (265yds). It’s an elegant building with archways and a glass and steel roof where the merchandise caters to the shopping elite of the world. Directly across from Gum are Lenin’s Tomb and the red walls of the Kremlin which are punctuated by 19 towers. One of the most captivating sights in Red Square is St. Basil’s Cathedral that draws one towards it with its magnetic charm. It’s almost Disneyesque with its multiple Hershey Chocolate shaped domes painted in stripes and vibrant colors. Viewed on a sunny, crisp, late September afternoon, under blue skies and cotton wool clouds, it’s a spectacular sight. One must also return at night when the entire square glitters and glows against the black velvet sky.
- Piazza Anfiteatro -Lucca -Tuscany- Italy
In the 2nd Century, Piazza Anfiteatro was built as an Amphitheater where gladiators performed in front of thousands of cheering spectators. In the 1800’s, it was refurbished as an oval piazza and marketplace surrounded by homes. Today markets are still held in this most atmospheric piazza which can be reached by four arched gateways, and it still draws crowds. Locals and visitors alike return time and time again to soak up the unique beauty and vibe, to browse the stores, to shop, and enjoy the cafés. It’s a gem of a piazza, with an addictive allure.
- Plaza Dorrego – San Telmo – Buenos Aires
Romance, European colonial style architecture, antique stores, cafés, bars, trendy boutiques and Tango. Plaza Dorrego dates back to the 18th Century when farmers would arrive from the countryside in wooden wagons to deliver their produce to the city. Today the rhythm of Tango music wafts over the plaza, dancers perform the sensuous, poetic tango, and people while away a couple of hours dining, drinking, and imbibing the atmosphere that permeates the square. On Sundays, the streets leading to the square are closed to traffic, and a huge antique market and flea market spills over the perimeters of the square into the surrounding streets.
- Tian’an Men Square – Beijing – China
Tian’an Men Square – The Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace – is a huge, austere, wide open expanse of concrete, dominated by Tian’an Men Gate where a commanding portrait of Mao Tse-tung hangs. The original Tian’an Men Gate dates back to the Ming Dynasty. It was here that in 1949, Mao formally declared the founding of The People’s Republic of China. Every day, thousands of people from all over China flock to Tian’an men Square where they wait patiently in line for hours to visit Mao’s mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies. The square is flanked by stolid Communist style buildings such as the Great Hall of the People, which is the seat of the legislature. This is not a square for lolling about at a café; to the contrary, it has become famous as the stage of demonstrations and protests. From Tian’an Men Square one enters the spectacular, immense, perfectly symmetrical, Forbidden City.
- Plaza Grande-Patzcuaro- Mexico
Patzcuaro is a little town that boasts numerous plazas each one with its own unique charm. Plaza Grande – the main square – is bordered by shady trees and colonnaded Spanish Colonial buildings with beautiful weathered red tile roofs, wrought iron balconies, and stone framed windows. At its center stands a circular fountain with the statue of Vasco de Quiroga, a social reformer who is revered in the state of Michoacan. Cafés, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and stores – selling textiles, weaving, ceramics, and copper, all made in and around Patzcuaro – surround the square. Hardly a week goes by when there isn’t a pageant, a parade, a fiesta, or a concert in and around the square. Church bells chime; fireworks crackle, pop, and wheeze; food flows; and balloons float happily skywards. During the festival of The Day of the Dead, artisans from all over Michoacán fill the square, and the pageantry is taken to a whole new level.
- Times Square – New York City – U.S.A.
Brash, bold, intoxicating, addictive, mesmerizing, Times Square in the heart of the Big Apple is all of that, and more. It pulsates with life and energy. It never sleeps. Some call it “The Crossroads of the World.” Times Square is shopping, restaurants, hotels, and Broadway theaters. There’s always something going in Times Square from food festivals, to outdoor exhibits, to yoga fests – you name it! At night, its mega-sized neon billboards are a spellbinding sight. The ultimate Times Square experience is New Year’s Eve when Times Square hosts the best attended and most fabulous party of the year and thousands of revelers wait for the famous ball to drop.
Disclosure : The following photos were not taken by me: Rynek Glowney (view from above the square), Piazza Anfiteatro, Times Square.