How many times have you admired a ‘common,’ ‘green’ or formal ‘square’ in your life? Plenty, I’ll bet. Even amid many an urban sprawl of crowded houses, seemingly gasping for space, there appears a modest patch of green: a welcome, sometimes desperate lung, amidst the brick-work.
Nelson's column London
Being English, the first famous square which springs to mind, is Trafalgar: surrounded by huge chunks of history. This includes The Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace and numerous buildings of note, with Admiral Nelson in such an elevated position on his column that he can keep an eye on acres of prime, green-fringed land, the ineffectual lions and the pigeons.
Washington Square USA
The second, is Washington Square in the USA. Its lush front garden host to a wealth of historical and interesting edifices, many long since the homes of a thriving publishing industry. Laid out in 1682 by William Penn’s surveyor: Thomas Holm, it was used, both as a potter’s field and a burial yard, for strangers in the city. And, later, as a resting place for the unfortunate victims of the American civil war, and a serious outbreak of yellow fever. Perhaps the latter facts are relevant to the flourishing of sixty varieties of tree seeds sown there.
Red Square, Moscow
Merely scratching the surface, Russia’s Red Square, vast though it is, evokes a turbulent past, energetic Cossack dancers, the balalaika and nests of garishly painted dolls. While St. Mark’s Square, Italy, ah…unique, exquisite St. Mark’s….echoes a fascinating history and appeals to all five senses.
Plaza Mayor in Salamanca
Spain too can tell of plazas which stand proud with the rest. The Plaza de Cibeles with fountain, and statue of the Roman Goddess Sybele, in Madrid; the Plaza de America and the Plaza de Espana, the latter built in theatrical style by Anibal Gonzalez. While the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, one of Spain’s grandest and largest plazas, begs a special adjective: magnificent! Built of warm, golden sandstone, the Plaza Mayor is resplendent at dusk. It was built by Pelipe V to thank the City for its support during the war of the Spanish Succession.
Plaza de Oriente Madrid
Countless other squares– verdant, cobbled, fountained; the cosseted and neglected…the smelly and the fragrant.. have cast their spells over generations in many parts of this achingly beautiful planet of ours. And many less illustrious ‘commons’ and plazas have been harbours of tranquility to countless people over the years: oasis of calm amidst the hub-bub of traffic and noise, and the ever increasing frantic rush of modern life. All catering to a coss-section of society.
The jogger, the Nanny with her charges; the down and outs, the lone bookworms, and the various canines taking their owners ‘walkies.’
Nowadays, with the price of land soaring even higher, space is becoming ever more precious, more desirable. In Spain, the massive plazas of yesteryear will inevitably give way to smaller ones. I am only grateful my two local favourites: modest though they are, lure me from time to time to enjoy their leisure
spaces. The Plaza de la Constitucion in Torrevieja boasts an explosion of red poinsettias around Christmas and a delightful, miniature model, interpretation of biblical times; and when the summer sun shines, it is planted with Birds of Paradise and is a riot of colour with annuals and Hibiscus flowers the size of dinner plates. The other plaza is in a place called Torre de la Horadada, (named after a 15th century tower overlooking the sparkling waters of the Med.), near a plesant harbour and two desirable, shallow-watered beaches. There are shady trees with groups of three (!) chairs affixed to the ground, skirted by cafes serving needy cooling liquids and ices in hot weather. Viva la Plaza!