Most cities have a central area, such as a square, place, piazza, plaza or platz, as a hub around which their citizens’ lives revolve. Going back to medieval times, these would be the site of major local events, be they mercantile (local markets), administrative (posting of new decrees), entertainment (travelling fairs) or maybe something more grisly (public executions). In the town square, people would come to buy and to socialise. This is also why the town square is usually surrounded by important civic buildings such as the city hall or cathedral.
Nowadays these squares fulfil much the same purpose, with crowds bustling through to drink in the sights and sounds of the town, see friends and take refreshments – picking up on the heartbeat of the area. Every square has its unique history and many feature famous monuments and other architectural pieces devoted to their notable citizens or events.
The Flexicover Team suggests some great plazas for you to visit!
Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
The Plaza Mayor is a beautiful European square in the centre of the Spanish capital. Previously it has hosted markets, executions and bull fights and now it’s still just as full of life as ever with street performers and public entertainment, shops, restaurants and cafés. It’s a great place to enjoy a glass of sangria whilst you watch the world go by! The statue dominating the middle is of Philip III, monarch at the height of the Spanish Empire, and sits across the cultural & tourist centre at the Casa de la Panadería, which has been everything from a bakery to headquarters of several arts societies and the municipal archives. To this day, the square is used for mass public celebrations and is a must-visit stop for any tourist!
Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Italy
Located directly in front of St. Peters Basilica in the Holy See, the Piazza San Pietro is one of the most important squares in Italy and a major tourist attraction. The Papal Apartment (where the Pope lives) can be viewed from this symmetrical square. Created by Bernini in the 17th century under commission from Pope Alexander VII, this expansive square can accommodate up to 400,000 people on special occasions such as travel_squared Mass or the election of a new Pope. An ancient Egyptian obelisk, originally from Heliopolis, stands at the centre of the square – having been moved from the Circus of Nero in 1586 – and with the markings on the paving stones actually functions as a massive sundial!
Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This square has featured significantly in Argentina’s political history and was the scene of the 1810 revolution which later resulted in independence from Spain in 1816. It is also the location of the well-known balcony of the Casa Rosada (depicted in Evita) following a long association with Juan Domingo Perón and his followers. With such a vibrant history, this plaza, showcasing the city hall, centre of government (the Pink House) and the cathedral, is a throbbing square full of life!
Zócalo, Mexico City, Mexico
One of the largest city squares in the world, it’s also known as the Plaza de la Constitución and is a great place where wandering tourists happily mix with the locals! Originally zócalo meant ‘base’ and refers to the plans to construct a column celebrating independence from Spain, but only the base was ever built (and has not been demolished). The space itself has been a gathering place since Aztec times – as part of the ancient capital in front of a royal palace. Part of the unique experience walking around this square is tasting food from the different street vendors, a truly breath-taking experience in the shadow of the national cathedral and the presidential palace. Take your walking shoes and enjoy shopping in the attractive silver and antique shops – and there are often concerts and exhibitions to enjoy!
Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
The Djemaa el-Fna is a square in Marrakesh’s old city and its biggest attraction; definitely not to be missed! This square is alive at all hours of the day where thousands of people gather in an exotic mix of experiences! Snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, singers, storytellers, food stalls and the best fresh orange juice in the world can all be found here. The food stalls let you choose between fish, meat and vegetarian dishes, all cooked before your very eyes – appreciated by Moroccans and tourists alike with glee. Take a ride on a horse and carriage and visit the surrounding souks to bag yourself a bargain!
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
This is the third largest city square in the world and is the heart and symbol of Beijing. It’s named after the Tiananmen Gate, which means ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’, at the entrance of the fabled Forbidden City. Surrounded by many historic buildings and monuments such as the Tiananmen Tower and the Monument to the People’s Heroes – locals and tourists alike gather here to have their photos taken or fly kites. It can hold over 1 million people, ideal for China’s mighty military displays, as well as the site of major protests such as those following Premier Zhou Enlai’s death in 1976 and the student protests in 1989, which subsequently brought about a change of views on China.
Closer to home, you will never tire of enjoying London’s own Trafalgar Square any day of the week, any time of the year. And if you are lucky enough to visit similar sights anywhere else in the world, then you may need a helping hand from Flexicover Direct, the travel insurance specialist, ensuring that you are safe and secure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year when away.
If you are travelling soon, have a wonderful trip!