Small but unique European squares…
Squares are an integral part of a city and are usually the focus of its daily life. A city or a village is often characterised by the beauty of its squares. In this article we revisit six of our favourite smaller squares in European countries, which are often overshadowed by larger and more spectacular ones.
Grabrodretorv (Copenhagen/Denmark) : While walking down the bustling Stroget pedestrian shopping street make a detour to visit this colorful cobblestone square at the centre of the Latin Quarter. The square dates back to the 13th century and its name refers to the so-called friary of the Grey Brothers, Franciscan monks, who built here the city’s first monastery. The square was destroyed by fire in 1728, bombarded by the British in 1807 and twice rebuilt. Once the site of a market hall and during the 1980s a hot spot for local college students, today it’s a quiet oasis, home to restaurants and bars. Do not miss the chance to visit this lesser known place and especially to have lunch or dinner at the outside tables of the picturesque restaurants on the square (if weather allows it).
Huidenvettersplein (Bruges/Belgium) : Although all travelers visiting Bruges know the Burg Square and the Markt (Market Square), few of them visit the smaller and picturesque Huidenvettersplein (Tanners Square). This place is just behind the Town Hall and the Burg Square. This small square was a courtyard with gates on both sides. In the 14th century it was occupied by a guild of tanners, but later in the 15th century they were moved to another location because the smell of leather was annoying the nearby houses. Today the square houses several restaurants and a hotel. At its centre you see a column supporting two lions and the emblem of the tanners. This is the ideal place after a busy day walking the streets of the city to relax, away from the noise of the main squares.
Place de la Marie (Roussillon/France) : Roussillon, in Provence, is a scenic village surrounded by beautiful countryside and situated in the heart of the biggest ochre deposits in the world. All the houses and buildings are coloured with deep ochres. Its hues come from at least 17 shades of ochre discovered in and around the village. The colours, varying from yellow to purple, made a striking contrast with the lush green of the area and the clear blue Provencal sky. Even the doors and the windows in the village are brightly painted with ochre. But the most impressive spot in the village is the central square, Place de la Marie. Like a backdrop from a movie, it is almost certain that this small square will steal your heart. Have a cup of coffee at the café or just relax at the stairs of the picturesque La Marie (City Hall) and be amazed by the spectacle of colours around you.
Place de la Palud (Lausanne/Switzerland) : In the heart of Vieille Ville (Old Town) of Lausanne, this relatively small square is the epicentre of the city’s everyday life. It is a 9th-century medieval market square which began as a marshy land. For five centuries it has been the home to the city government housed in the 17th-century Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). At its centre you see Fontaine de la Justice, a fountain with a brightly painted column and the allegorical figure of Justice on it, holding scales and dressed in blue. The statue dates back to the 16th century but at the beginning of the 20th century its poor condition forced the authorities to transfer it to the Historical Museum of the city and replace it with a copy. On the wall behind the fountain, a clock presents the history of Vaud Canton in animated scenes every hour (from 9:00 to 19:00). Amidst the streets of the Old Town, this picturesque square is the perfect place for a break.
Placa de Felip Neri (Barcelona/Spain) : Just a few metres from Barcelona Cathedral, this small medieval square is a relaxing oasis. The square took its name from the Church of Saint Philip Neri, which presides over the square. To the right of the church is the School of Saint Felip Neri, which used the square as a playground. In the center of the square is an octagonal fountain, dedicated as a symbol of life. In 1938 during the Spanish Civil War and the siege of Barcelona, one bomb fell on the church killing 30 people from the School and some refugee children from Madrid (because the church had been turned into an orphanage). It was the second worst bombing hit in Barcelona during the war. Evidence of the bombings can be seen in the pockmarked walls of the church. Grab an ice cream from the nearby gelateria Un gelato per te and admire the beauty of the place.
Piazza di Pietra (Rome/Italy) : Rome is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and its squares (such as Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna) are some of the most photographed places in the world. But the locals have their own favorite among the numerous piazzas. Piazza di Pietra is dominated by the colonnade of the Temple of Hadrian, built by Emperor Antoninus Pius in honor of his father. This colonnade was incorporated at the end of the 17th century in the new building of the Customs House and in the course of the 19th century it became the Stock Exchange and finally the seat of the Chamber of Commerce. The name of the square is of popular attribution, most likely referring to the grandeur of the stones of the colonnade. The square houses the café-bar Salotto 42 – a favorite spot of the locals and the best place for a glass of Aperol in Rome.
These are six small favorite squares from our European travels. Six unique memories that we will carry with us for a lifetime, hoping in the future to visit more remarkable places.
Which is your favorite small European square ?
See also our article “5 small European towns to put on your bucket list”