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Plaza de la Merced

One of the main squares in the city's historical centre, regularly hosting events and festivals, is a site buzzing with life

Home to the Obelisk honouring General Torrijos and Picasso's birthplace, now the site of the Picasso Foundation Birthplace Museum, the square has been pointed out, according to some theories, as the hypothetical location of a supposed Roman amphitheatre or gymnasium, though conclusive archaeological evidence is yet to be found.

The square's earliest incarnation was an open space outside the city walls that, after the Christian conquest, played host to a market, hence its initial name, Plaza del Mercado. It was later named Plaza de Riego, in memory of a 19th-century liberal general who lived on the square. Throughout that century, the square became a recreation spot for the bourgeoisie, housing a fountain at its centre, which was replaced by the neoclassical obelisk of Torrijos in 1842, designed by Rafael Mitjana.

The Church and Convent of Our Lady of Merced once stood to the northwest of the square. Erected in 1507 and expanded in the 18th century, the site was set ablaze during the burning of the convents in 1931 and was demolished in 1964 to make way for a block of flats. In the mid-20th century, this ruined church was the scene of some religious events of an illuminist nature, involving a congregation of canonical irregularity informally known as “Las Hipolitinas”.

The square underwent renovations in 1857, 1988, and again in 2011, preserving its 19th-century image. Noteworthy buildings that surround the square include: Nos. 9 and 10, the oldest in the square, boasting 18th-century facades. No. 12, a building from 1883 featuring a glazed gallery on the top floor. Nos. 15 to 20, known as the Houses of Campos, where Pablo Picasso was born in 1881.

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