Summary: why is the "piazza" so important in Italian culture?
What are the activities that take place there and why are Italian squares such an important point of reference? And finally, some idiomatic expressions with the word piazza.
A few years ago, when I visited Los Angeles in the United States for the first time, I found myself in this big city, made up of a thousand neighborhoods, streets and highways, feeling a bit lost in a way that had never happened to me in other places. After a couple of days I realized the reason for my disorientation: it was my typically Italian attitude to continually look for the center of the city, something I could not find in Los Angeles.
We Italians happen to feel a little disoriented if in a city without a center, the original core, the heart of a place that for us has always been “la piazza”, the square of a city.
In Italy, at the center of every small village, every town and every city there is a square. Of course, in the big cities the squares can be many, but there is always one more important or older than the others: it is the square around which the city was born and grew: the historical center.
The square, from the small village to the big city, is the place where you find the town hall, the church, the pharmacy, the shop and the bar so it is the place where the public, religious and private lives of the citizens meet and unite.
The square is the place for meetings, where you can see your friends: in the morning for a coffee, in the evening for an aperitif. It is the place of the market, “il mercato”, of commerce and of business. In many squares of Italy every week, or several times a week, the market takes place, a tradition that, fortunately, has not disappeared even though we have cities full of supermarkets and shopping centers.
In the square we also go to show disagreement (against the government, for example), to celebrate joy, to express grief or collective pain. The squares of Italy are filled with protests or discomfort during strikes or political demonstrations, or joy and satisfaction when maybe the local football team or the Italian team win an important game. The squares can also be filled with pain and sadness after a funeral or a tragedy that has involved the whole community.
So the square, as in the ancient Greek tradition of the agora, is also the place for the exchange of ideas. Before the birth of television and social media, the square was where news was passed and where opinions and judgments were articulated. The square was the place where public opinion was formed.
That's why the square, the heart of a city, is so important for an Italian, and why, unintentionally, we look for it in every city we visit.
And that's why, in Italian, there are so many idiomatic expressions with the word piazza.
Lo decide la piazza: the square decides it
We learned that the square is the place where ideas are exchanged and where public opinion is formed, so "the square decides" means that sometimes the opinion of the people can be decisive in the choices of a government. “The square decided it: we’ll change this law!” La piazza ha deciso: cambieremo questa legge!
Conquistare la piazza: conquer the square
Conquering the square means conquering public opinion, having the majority of people on its side. This expression can be used talking about politics but also talking about trade: for example, talking about a new product or a new brand we can say that "has conquered the square", ha conquistato la piazza! he won over the market.
Scendere in piazza: take to the streets
This means deciding to take part in something, to participate in a movement, in a demonstration. It can mean that I decide to make public and share my idea with other people. You can “take to the streets to protest against the Government”, scendere in piazza per protestare contro il Governo, to demonstrate for or against something or to assert your rights.
Andare in piazza : go to the square
This can be synonymous with "go to town" or "go downtown". It means going to the historic core, the ancient part of a city for many reasons: to take a walk and see the windows, to shop, to meet friends, “to take a walk", per fare una passeggiata, or "to get some air", per prendere una boccata d’aria: all ways to stay outdoors and socialize.
Mettere in piazza: put on the streets
We learned that the square is where news is heard and where opinions are exchanged. "Put on the streets" means making a news public. If, for example, I confide a secret to a friend and he tells it to everyone, it means that he "put my business on the streets without thinking about me. Ha messo in piazza i fatti miei senza preoccuparsi di me!
Fare piazza pulita: make a clean sweep
This is an expression that is used when you decide to close a previous situation in order to make a definitive change. You can use it to talk about a project: I want to make a clean sweep of old habits! Voglio fare piazza pulita delle vecchie abitudini! Or even just to talk about cleaning: I want to make a clean sweep of all this mess on my desk! Voglio fare piazza pulita di tutta questa confusione sulla scrivania!
On your next trip to Italy, look for the center of a city!
Wandering through the medieval streets of some Italian cities, suddenly, emerging from a small alley you will find a large square, and the feeling of space, air and light will open your heart and you will discover the charm and beauty of an Italian square.
And what about you? Have you ever been to an Italian piazza?
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