This enchanting square is a romantic green oasis in the centre of the city, bringing to mind an Edwardian park in miniature, in a quiet corner of London. When, at the end of the nineteenth century, the city expanded beyond what had been its defensive walls, Gipuzkoa Square was its first public park.
However, a word of warning, if midday is approaching, the peace is about to be shattered.
And that’s because every day at twelve o'clock a siren goes off, a sound which over the years has become emblematic of Donostia.
The sound was originally the idea of the newspaper "El Pueblo Vasco" -now called "El Diario Vasco"– at the beginning of the twentieth century. In those days, its head office was in nearby Garibay Street. With the sole aim of promoting their newspaper, they came up with the idea of the daily, midday siren. To this day, it loudly lets everyone in the city know when this hour has been reached.
And no, the sound doesn't come from the county hall on the west side of the square, as many people believe, but from a watchmaker's close by.
In its early days, in this Square, citizens could observe with interest how a little canon also announced this hour. A simple system transmitted the sun's rays through a lens, producing enough heat to light the cannon's fuse. This little "weapon" is still conserved in the St. Telmo Museum.
The square is designed around a romantic park that occupies most of its surface, crossed by a pond populated by ducks and swans. A meteorological "temple", a white marble sundial and a large clock add to the charm of this little park. It frequently becomes the central point of many of the city's activities, such as book fairs and craft markets, and at Christmas, the whole park becomes a magical nativity scene.
Until 1907, the park was enclosed by tall, metal railings with eight gates which were locked at night. These railings are still in use over one hundred years later in the local nurseries on the outskirts of the city.
Running along the west side of the square is an impressive neo-classical palace, the home of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, bearing a large shield on which you can see the province's coat of arms. An earlier neo-classical palace was rebuilt after a fire. On the main facade, above the imposing columns, you can see the busts of the most important mariners of the province: Urdaneta, Elcano, Oquendo, Lezo and Legazpi. They are all looking towards the monument in the park which is dedicated to another of the famous sons of Gipuzkoa, the composer and pianist, José Maria Usandizaga.