Russia, Red Square and My Top Ten Piazzas, Plazas and Squares

A couple of blog posts ago a fellow WordPress blogger, Victor Tribunsky, left a comment and asked if I agreed with the assessment of Jeremy Clarkson that Moscow’s Red Square is the most beautiful in the World and this set me thinking.

Not being as widely travelled as Jeremy Clarkson I am hardly qualified to make this statement but in no particular order I have compiled my own personal top ten. These are places that I have enjoyed visiting, photographing and simply sitting at a pavement café enjoying a beer. Red Square, Moscow has gone straight in there and here in no particular order are the other nine:

Rynek Główny, the Main Market Square in Kraków, Poland

This is claimed to be the largest medieval square in Europe and remains the most important market square of the Old Town in Kraków.  I liked it there –  the centre of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style, topped by a beautiful attic or Polish parapet decorated with carved masks.

On one side of the Hall is the Town Hall Tower on the other the tenth century Church of St. Wojciech and the Adam Mickiewicz Monument. Rising above the square are the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica which has a tower where on the hour a bugle call sounds out.  The story says that it was played by a guard during the Tatars’ invasion in the thirteenth century, who used it to warn citizens of an attack. Unfortunately for him, he was shot in mid tune and since that day the melody breaks off just at the moment he died and then starts again a few seconds later when someone else picked up his bugle and carried on in his place.

Piazza del Campo, Siena

Even though it was raining this did not spoil my visit to the Piazza del Campo to see the venue for the famous annual Palio horserace.

This is probably the most famous festival in Tuscany and was first raced in the year 1273 and is a colourful medieval pageant that takes place twice a year on 2nd July and 16th August.   It is so called because riders race each other for a Palio or winners banner and it is a competition where seventeen seriously crazy jockeys hurtle bareback around a confined square with dangerously adjacent buildings and perilously close spectators; I have concluded that they are probably taxi drivers for the rest of the year.

Trujillo, Extremadura, Spain

I have posted before about my favourite Plaza Mayor in Spain and this one certainly makes the list.

All around the square there are grand palaces and mansions and outside the sixteenth century Iglesia de San Martín in the north-east corner is the reason why – a great equestrian statue of the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro.  It is an interesting coincidence that many of the sixteenth century explorers and adventurers who carved out the Spanish Empire in South America came from Extremadura and as well as Pizzaro, Hérnan Cortés, who defeated the Aztecs, Hernando De Soto, who explored Florida, and Pedro de Almagro, who accompanied Pizzaro, all came from this south-west corner of Spain.

St. Mark’s Square, Venice

Piazza St Marco Venice Italy

Napoleon may or may not have called the Piazza San Marco “the finest drawing room in Europe” but whether he did or he didn’t it doesn’t really matter because it is indeed one of the finest squares in all of Europe.

San Marco or is the principal public square of Venice where it is generally known just as ‘the Piazza’.  All other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzetta) are called ‘campi’ (fields). The Piazzetta (the ‘little Piazza’) is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner and the two spaces together form the social, religious and political centre of the city.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

There was no need for a map to find it, we just followed the swarm of people, because this has to be one of the busiest places in Rome with the huge fountain almost completely filling the tiny Piazza with people crammed in and shuffling through as they squeeze slowly past the crowds.

There is a tradition of throwing three coins in the fountain guarantees that you will return one day to Rome.  These days’ tourists with a desire to return to the Eternal City deposit an average of €3,000 a day in the fountain and this is collected up every night and is used to fund social projects for the poor of the city.

Old Town Square, Prague

The streets were busy and we walked until reaching the old town, which opened up into a spacious and welcoming central square with elegant pastel coloured buildings and it was free of traffic so we were able to wander aimlessly around looking ever upwards and admiring the houses that surrounded it.

In the centre is the Jan Hus monument, a religious reformer who was burnt at the stake for his beliefs.  In the Middle Ages there always came a time where persisting with a point of view became dangerous to life and limb and poor old Jan obviously did not get his timing right, a bit like Thomas More and his out of touch views on King Henry’s wedding plans.

Djemma el Fna, Marrakech

This was quite unlike anything we had ever seen or visited before and it was everything we had expected but more with a riot of colour and frenetic activity that was exciting and vibrant.

I took a picture of some musicians who demanded money and became rather agitated when I refused and then we walked past the snake charmers and the men with Barbary Apes all trying to sell photographs, fortune tellers and soothsayers and my favourite the tooth puller who would have provided dental surgery at a fraction of the cost of the National Health Service if we had been brave enough to allow him.  There were rows and rows of market stalls selling fresh and dried fruits and others competing to sell a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and all around the square were cafés and restaurants with high level balconies where people were sitting and just enjoying the random entertainment.

Pula, Croatia

Pula Istria Croatia Main Square

This has been Pula’s main square for a long time because in one corner, close to where we were sitting was the two thousand year old Roman Temple of Augustus which was in surprisingly good shape for all its years. It was hot now and the sun was trapped in the square and the heat intensified as it bounced off the white walls and pavements made of dazzling Istrian stone.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.  In the middle ages, thanks to the wool trade, it was one of the most important cities in Europe and the historic city centre is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site because most of its medieval architecture remains intact.

I had visited Bruges before in 1981 so I thought I knew what I was looking for but over the years I must have got mixed up because the place looked nothing like I remembered it.  I knew that we were looking for a large square and I had in mind something classical like St Marks in Venice so I was surprised when we reached the famous market square to find nothing like that at all.

This is my personal Top Ten and it could change tomorrow – leave a comment and tell me what you would have included!

15 responses to “Russia, Red Square and My Top Ten Piazzas, Plazas and Squares

  1. Done six of those. I’d probably add London’s Soho Square, it’s not big but it’s bordered by two churches historically used by the French community and a house that used to be the infamous White House Brothel inthe 18th century and then went on to be the HQ of the Post Office Film Unit.
    Inside the Square there is a statue of Charles II by Caius Cibber and it frequently hosts music and art events. Being in the heart of London’s media district it’s also a great place to enjoy the luchtime Sun and spot celebs from the arts and theatrical wolrd,
    It’s also close to the Gay Hussar and the Coach and Horses, my favourite restaurant and pub.

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  2. I’d be disagreeing with Jeremy out of principle! I’ve never really thought about squares. Beaches, ports, walks, even airports – but squares? I wouldn’t even have remembered St Mark’s if you hadn’t posted it up 😀 That one in Pula looks nice. So that’s my extremely unhelpful contribution.

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    • Surely you have a square or a plaza in Gibraltar? Or will Gibraltarians not have a Plaza Mayor out of principle?

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      • Actually it’s the piazza for some reason. Also known as John Mackintosh Square. You would have thought when not a square it would be a plaza, but now, it’s the Piazza. I’ll look for some photos.

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      • Oh and there is Casemates too (where the minis left from in my last post – but there are better pix of it as a square than that, I was taking minis 😀 I prefer John Mack anyway, it has city hall and government buildings some nice architectural restoration along with some crappy old new stuff. Casemates is galleried though on one side which is rather nice.

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  3. This is a great list! I wouldn’t even know where to begin making a “Best Piazza” list because there are so many fun places out there.

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  4. I read it as ‘My top 10 Pizzas’ at first!!
    I’ve only been to two of yours, The Trevi and Prague. Is there nowhere in Paris that took your fancy or perhaps Berlin ?

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  5. They all look gorgeous to me since I have been to none of them. Thanks for the virtual tour Andrew!

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  6. aBitofCulture

    I’d add Brussels and Trieste, but agree – there’s nothing better than people watching and having a beer in a square.

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  7. jackandmarilynerickson

    I’ll nominate Prato della Valle in Padua we visited in 2006 where Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” takes place, home of Scrovegni cappella, Piazza della Valle is one of the largest piazzas in Europe with fountains, canals, statues, and parks.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prato_della_Valle

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