Did you know that the plaza – a large, open urban public space, especially a square – originated in Spain? The Spanish built them to be the hub of towns and cities. There, in the buildings, resided the religious authorities (usually in a cathedral), the administrative staff and the law court. In the middle, in the open space, people of the community could come together: for market day, for meetings, for military parades, for fiestas.
In my travels through Spain, I have seen many beautiful plazas, but the one that stands out most in my memory is in Seville: the Plaza de España.
The plaza was built for a world fair called the Ibero-American Exposition, held in Seville between May and June of 1929. As is the case in any world fair, the host was very keen to impress on international visitors their stature and style, and so the design of the square and the surrounding buildings was carefully conceived to impress – and so it did, and does to this day!
The plaza is situated in the Maria Luisa Park, whose gardens were designed by French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier (the man behind the gardens at the Eiffel Tower, Paris) to be lush and paradisiacal, with pavilions and fountains and Mediterranean tiling, along with palm and citrus fruit trees.
The plaza is vast: some 50,000 square metres, the size of five football pitches. The 500-metre canal in the plaza has earned it the nickname ‘Venice of Seville’; you can even hire boats and row around the square. Access to the buildings is via four bridges over the canal named for the ancient kingdoms of Spain: Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon.
The buildings stand grand and elegant, forming a semi-circle. They were designed by Aníbal González, who was influenced by the Renaissance, Art Deco and Neo Mudéjar (Morish Revival) architectural styles.
My favourite part of the design is the huge central fountain, designed by Vicente Taverner (who took over the design of the plaza when González resigned in 1926), and the many ceramic-tiled alcoves in the walls of the plaza, each devoted to a different province of Spain. Here is the alcove for the province of Zaragoza:
Beautiful, don’t you think?
For a breath-taking bird’s-eye view of the plaza, I recommend climbing up to one of the first-floor balconies – the central one is particularly grand, and affords an amazing view. (The view may, in fact, look familiar, if you are a Star Wars fan; the Plaza de España features in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones as a city on Naboo.)
If you can bring yourself to walk away from that view, there are two wonderful museums housed in the old buildings, the Archaeological Museum in the former Fine Arts Pavilion, and the Museum of Art and Popular Costume in the Mudejar Pavilion.
Have you visited any Spanish plazas? Do you have a Spanish-inspired plaza, perhaps, in a town or city near you? I would love to hear about your own travels.