La Plaza Mayor

Center of the city
Salamanca, Spain

Submitted by: Jessica Hauser

A beloved public square that is bustling with life at almost every hour of the day and night.

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Why It Works

The Plaza is a large open space carved out in the center of the old part of the city. Along its perimeter are shops, cafes, bars and restaurants with outside terraces for eating and drinking. There is an overhang that shelters the walk space, but this is opened to the rest of the square by arches. The plaza is four stories high on all sides, and the second through fourth floors are typically occupied by additional retail or restaurant space, residential uses, some office space and a youth hostel. Backless benches are located around the square as well.

What Makes La Plaza Mayor a Great Place?

Everyone uses the Plaza in Salamanca. It is a pedestrian-only zone, except for some periods early in the morning (for deliveries and such) and conveniently accessed by foot. All of the streets that lead to it (they branch out from it on all sides) are also pedestrian-only, but there are more minor streets off of those that are accessible by car. Many people who live in the outskirts of the city will utilize them or go home by taxi thanks to the convenient taxi stop located just off the square. Many people will orient themselves to where they are in the city as a whole by locating the Plaza.

The square is bustling with life at almost every hour of the day and night. It is a beautiful place and therefore inviting. The most popular meeting spot in Salamanca is "Debajo del reloj" (under the clock) located at one end of the square because it is probably convenient to wherever one is going to go. People can choose to sit on the benches or in the terrace cafes, although this requires buying a coffee or beer, or even on the ground. Many groups of young people congregate and sit on the cobblestones to wait or engage in conversation. The Plaza is cleaned every night by the city but very little litter is left during the day.

People come to the Plaza to shop, eat, drink, meet people, socialize, people watch, study (Salamanca is Spain's "college town"), take a stroll and many other reasons. At night, often a roving tuna (a group of minstrels from the University who dress in centuries old garb) will appear, or other spontaneous forms of entertainment will appear. A Flamenco troupe that involves local passers-by is not unusual, for example.

People come here to be social. Many people meet friends here but it is not unusual to strike up a conversation with a stranger either. Locals and tourists use it alike. As it is a student-oriented city, they are a large user of the space. During the academic year they are Spanish, and during the summers the students have a more international flavor. The plaza is used well into the wee hours of the morning. I spent a night (from 1AM to 6AM or so) watching the comings and goings while talking to a friend in the square from a balcony overlooking it and not once did I see it deserted. I have seen it at almost every other time of day as well and there are always people there. It is so beloved that there is a mini replica of the Plaza located in a local bar, Cum Laude, in the hopes that it will be as popular and visited as the original.

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