Plaza Chica: A Life Under the Arcades

It’s Sunday. Not any Sunday, but a good autumn Sunday. It’s raining outside, but wine and electric braziers warm the dinning-room, and there are lots of happy faces around the counter,  deeply engaged in cheerful conversations, everlasting discussions or love talks. Hustle and bustle, smokers jam at the door. You have to run and keep the balance with the tray, dodging a pair of tykes that are coming into, looking for their croquettes.

Say hello, smile, say goodbye, write down the orders, pull some beer and serve some drinks. Take a stew from the kitchen, a dish of olives, a salad and some desserts. Then, add one of those quarrels kitchen-waitress/waitress-kitchen that makes this job so wonderful, and you won’t be able to stand it anymore at five or six pm.

But then, everything is a bit more relaxed. You go out, smell some fresh air, stop for a while under the arcades to see the rainIMGP6689It is great to be here.

Here, in the Plaza Chica (Small Square), the small centre of our small world. More than six hundred years watching how life runs under the arcades: business and markets, trials and weddings, melon stands, theatre, carnivals, Curro Jiménez and The Holy Innocents.

The Square, setting for cinema and life, is probably the older spot in Zafra. It was the centre of the medieval town, which grew around it until the 16th  century, because economic and political power were concentrated here. The weekly market was authorised in 1380, and there are evidences of the location of the town hall since 1430.

The arcades are a natural consequence of its commercial function: three covered parts, for sheltering trades and goods from sun and rain, and a free part for the Town Hall, later the Court (It is still having the jail bars), and today, the Music School. Nowadays, the Square maintains its rectangular plan, surrounded by white buildings whose facades end in brick arches. They have assorted columns and capitals as a result of the reuse of architectonical materials from former Roman and Visigothic buildings. Some of these columns, witness of the passing of time, hold etching words that talk about past ages. In addition, we can see some intertwined arches in one of the windows. They are typical of the Gothic-Mudejar art, but very rare in Spanish architecture.

There are some signs of this commercial past. The most famous one is the Vara, an old Castilian measurement (83 cm) colengraved on a column as a reference for buying fabric. Stands were gathered by products in this old market. As an example, bakeries were located in the arc that leads to Big Square, thas is still called Arquillo del Pan (Bread Arc). The Almotacen, the guardian of the market, lived just there. And in this same corner, small as the square, a tiny baroque chapel devoted to a virgin who, because of her size is called Little Hope (La Esperancita).

The market grew as the town did during the Early Modern Period, so part of it was moved to the other square and Plaza Chica lost part of its commercial function.  However, it kept being the political and judicial centre, and became the location for some taverns and inns. They were our precedents, the ancestors of all these bars and restaurants that fill the square with life, colour and delicious food. 

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