The curious case of the immortal European square

Six sides of the square…

What’s the single-most universal impression you carry home from European cities? For me, it has to be timelessness. Translated: continuity. And one of the best examples is reflected is the enigmatic town square. 

florence square 3
Get arty at Piazza della Signoria, Florence

The European square offers the most scintillating peep into the fascinating big picture connecting the past with the present. Starting with the 6th-century Agora of Greece, public spaces have spread across the continent as everlasting symbols of the past. The Forum or Piazza (Italy), Markt (Netherlands), Place (France) Praça (Portugal), Platz (Germany), Námesti (Czech), Rynek (Poland) or Trg (Croatia), may be identified by different names, but their essence binds them together. Have you noticed the six common recurring themes that I have mapped out?

Of the heart and soul

The one common place that dominates the map of any city or town in Europe is the Old Town. And at the nerve centre of the Old Town, you’re sure to pin down the biggest draw…the inevitable town square, reverberating with original character. Traditional architecture, historic cafes, local specialities, explosion of arts-crafts and culture overload, all in a fully-pedestrian zone. Its literally like walking into a time capsule. Follow that human stream if you lose your way… 

bruges square.jpg
Outstanding Flemish architecture in Burg Square, Bruges  
heidelberg square.jpg
Savour lunch in the shadow of the Heiliggeistkirche Cathedral at Marktplatz, Heidelberg
antwerp square.jpg
A ride into the past at Grote Markt, Antwerp
Designed for drama

There’s always the surprise element. Narrow, winding cobbled streets that end in a small entry, often an archway. Cross the threshold, and boom….you’re in a sunny, airy, wide open courtyard enclosed with medieval buildings on all sides. Walled in on four directions, with the sky as a ceiling, this sudden contrast of spaces can take a while to adjust to. But you love it, don’t you? What’s not to love?  

nazare square.jpg
Window to the world of Nazare’s main square
capri square.jpg
Peek into Piazza Umberto I, Capri
lisbon square.jpg
Generously proportioned Praça do Comércio, Lisbon
venice square.jpg
Be seen at the celebrated Piazza San Marco, Venice
Star attraction

Look around for a unique feature, or an emblem from the past. You can’t miss it. Often, its a grand monument like a cathedral and a town hall (mostly both), a towering memorial, a fountain, or statue. Most of these squares, after all, have lineage in the medieval age, nearly 2000 years ago, when these were the central areas for religious, political, social and commercial gatherings. Even coronations and executions! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Age-old legacy

Public squares of the yesteryears continue to retain their glory as chosen sites for annual festivals, national celebrations, art performances and political protests in their cities even today. It is truly incredible how age-old traditions and rituals have not just survived, but also thrived through these squares scattered all over Europe. Nearly every event happens in a legendary square. They’re almost earmarked for this purpose. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Social hotspot, then to now

Squares have always been hubs for people to commune, gather, converse, collaborate, feel part of a social milieu. Ubiquitous canopied cafes line the sides. People bask in the sun, converse, drink and dine in the peaceful traffic-free zone, sheltered from the bustling web of streets around. Cutlery clinks, children feed pigeons, band of performers engage the crowds, outdoor exhibits liven up the area. Its one massive living room and you’re part of the guest list! Amid carousels and wedding shoots… 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Square, you said?

The shape of a ‘square’ is defined by the buildings that surround it. Despite being rectangular, circular, oval, hexagon or even completely irregular, it still magically remains a square! Find a vantage point high above for observation, ideally the tower of a cathedral. There’s bound to be one in the vicinity, if not in the square itself.  

lucca square.jpg
Get over the fact that its oval. Lucca’s Piazza dell’Anfiteatro was once a colosseum
vatican square.jpg
Grandeur oozes from every pillar of the colonnades at the semi-circular St. Peter’s Square, Vatican

Modest or grandiose, hidden or legendary, blink-and-miss or monumental, in Europe, you would have to think twice before concluding that a square is a square is a square. It was here yesterday, is here today, and will certainly be here tomorrow too! 

Pin this post for later!

squares - pinterest.png

This was once the greatest city in the world!

Cordoba is Andalusia’s most precious gem… 

An hour and a half or 140 km from Seville will take you at Córdoba, the erstwhile capital of al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), where you can witness intriguing remnants of its glory years that lasted from 756 to 1031. Along the road, large yellow faces of thousands of sunflowers bend joyfully towards the sun, welcoming you cheerfully, as if saying, “choose happiness”. Feel the comers of your mouth tilting up unconsciously in a broad smile as you are reminded that they crave warmth too.

Continue reading “This was once the greatest city in the world!”

Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelis

Beauties and bounties in the bylanes of Bikaner…

“You won’t be able to find them on your own.” The hotel manager dismisses our valiant declaration of self-exploration with a mysterious smile. “I’ll arrange an auto rickshaw to guide you. The lanes are too narrow for a car.” Intrigue levels: brim high.

Our driver, Wali, nods knowingly, when I show him the google pictures in my phone. We climb into the well-padded back seat of our colourful three-wheel drive towards the oldest part of the city. At 11 am, its still a lazy morning in the marketplace. Steamy curls rising from chai cups, brooms swooshing across verandahs and biscuit-laden carts rumbling along to designated spots. The man stirring hot milk at Ramji Ghewar Wale sweet shop seems absent-minded…still not fully awake yet?  

   Continue reading “Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelis”

Immerse in the most authentic of Spanish experiences

Feel the vibrance and verve of the Flamenco…

Craving for some pure Andalusian vibrance? Pining for the real cultural vibe that defines the heart of Spain? Tell you where to find it? It practically oozes from every inch of the ceramic tiled walls of Seville, Andalusia’s 3000-year old capital. If you are a true heritage lover, you can’t avoid falling in love with this medieval city. It is feisty, flamboyant and fun, with unmistakable Moorish influences that entice from every colourful corner. See this article of Lonely Planet magazine and tell me you’re not itching to go…

Continue reading “Immerse in the most authentic of Spanish experiences”