Here are some of the most famous town or city squares around Europe.
Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic
The history of the Old Town Square goes back to the 10th century when the square was a marketplace at the crossroads of European trade routes. Several Romanesque and Gothic-style buildings around the square were built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Old Town Hall, the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Baroque Church of St Nicholas, the Rococo Kinský Palace, the Gothic House at the Stone Bell, and the monument to Jan Hus are the dominating structures at the square. The square also contains the famous 600-year-old Astronomical Clock that is still sticking.
Historically, the Old Town Square witnessed several celebrations as well as tragic events. For instance, it was on the route of coronation processions to the castle. However, some tragic executions also took place at the square, such as the execution of 27 participants of the Czech revolt against the Habsburgs on 21 June 1621. Today, one can see 27 crosses marked on the sidewalk along the Old Town Hall commemorating them.
Place Vendôme in Paris, France
Place Vendôme was created with the name “Place des Conquêtes” in 1698 in commemoration of the victories of the armies of Louis XIV. French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart was commissioned to design the uniform façades surrounding the square. When the conquests turned out to be a temporary success, the square was renamed “Place de Louis le Grand.” There was also an equestrian statue of Louis XIV at the center of the square which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The name of the square became Place des Piques during the revolution, and the Vendôme Column replaced the statue of Louis XIV.
Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy
Called the “finest drawing room in Europe” by Napoleon, Piazza San Marco lies before the Basilica of San Marco. The arcaded buildings of the Old Procurators’ Offices and the New Procurators’ Offices constitute the southern and the northern wings of the square. The late 14th-century clock tower stands at the basilica end of the Old Procurators’ building.
Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican City
Saint Peter’s Square is a large piazza lying before the St. Peter’s Basilica. According to beliefs, the square is where Peter the Apostle and also the first pope was killed. Famous Italian architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini built the square at the behest of Pope Alexander VII between 1656 and 1667. Four rows of doric collonades consisting of 284 columns and 88 pillars define the border of the square. There are 140 sculptures of Saints and Martyrs, decorating the top of the colonnades. On two sides of the elliptical square, there are two identical fountains, one built by Carlo Maderno in 1614 and the other by Bernini in 1675. Moreover, an ancient obelisk brought from Egypt in 37AD by Emperor Caligula rises at the center of the square. Interestingly, this obelisk is the only surviving Egyptian obelisk among several other obelisks brought to Rome.
Marktplatz Square in Bremen, Germany
Being one of the oldest public squares in the city, Marktplatz Square partly dates back to the period of Charlemagne. In the past, the bank of the river Balge, a branch of Bremen’s first port, passed on the southern side of the square. There used to be easy access for boats on the bank; however, this section was too low for permanent structures. Therefore, this part of the marketplace was later raised by plastering in several stages between the late 12th and late 13th centuries.
Meanwhile, the Roland Statue was erected on the square following the construction of the town hall. Over the centuries, the marketplace lost its popularity as a trade center but still served as a marketplace until the mid-20th century. Over the pavements of the square, a wheel of dark sandstones encircles a Hanseatic Cross made with red stones. The cross commemorates the glory of the Hanseatic Legion during the Wars of Liberation (1813-1815).
Main Market Square in Krakow, Poland
Rebuilt in 1257 following the Mongol invasion of the city, the Main Market Square in Krakow is the largest Medieval plaza in Europe. The square contains four landmarks of the city that are the 13th-century Cloth Hall, St. Mary’s Basilica, the Town Hall Center dating from the 14th century, and the 10th-century Church of St. Adalbert.
Stanislas Square in Nancy, France
Built between 1752 and 1756 by Stanislaus I of Poland, Stanislas Square is a great example of architecturally consistent and monumental urban architecture. Since its construction, the square has always served as a public place for assemblies and festivities, except for the time when it functioned as a parking space between 1958 and 1983.
Grand-Place in Brussels, Belgium
Originally dating from the 11th century, Grand Place got serious damage in 1695 due to the bombardment of French troops during the Nine Years’ War. Only the façade, the tower of the Town Hall, and some stone walls could escape destruction. Later, the Brussels bourgeois restored the city in accordance with its former design. The most famous structure around the square is the 15th-century Gothic-style City Hall with a bell tower. Interestingly, there is no place of worship in the square. Instead, the structures surrounding it are all of mercantile and administrative kind. The Grand Place also has hosted the Flower Carpet event every two years since 1986. This Flower Carpet consists of a 70 m long by 24 m wide assembly of begonias, dahlias, grass, and bark.
Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London, England
Trafalgar Square, taking its name from the Battle of Trafalgar, commemorates the British naval victory over the French on 21 October 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Accordingly, the column of Admiral Nelson, a key figure killed in the battle, rises at the center of the square. Throughout the square’s history, it has been a place for protests and multicultural or religious demonstrations such as Chinese New Year, Pride in London festivities, and carol singing at Christmas.