Plaza Murillo is not only the main meeting square of modern day, downtown La Paz, but it’s also a public space steeped in history, conquest, conflict and tragedy. Surrounded by imposing buildings such as the Presidential Palace, the La Paz Cathedral and the National Congress of Bolivia, many of the country’s most notable political events have taken place on the open square.
Unlike many other central squares in South America, Plaza Murillo is not named “Plaza de Armas” or “Plaza Mayor”. Though it has held both of those names since its founding in 1558 by Spanish settlers, Plaza Murillo is now named for Don Pedro Domingo Murillo, a leader of the 1809 revolution against Spanish occupation who was eventually hung in the plaza now bearing his name.
Revered to this day as a great leader in the independence movement, Plaza Murillo now features a large monument to the man who helped release Bolivia from its colonial shackles. Murillo, however, was not the only political figure to meet an unfortunate end in this square. In 1946, President Gualberto Villaroel was assassinated when an angry mob stormed the Presidential Palace, took up arms against him and tossed his body out into the open square where it was eventually hung from a lamppost.
Today, the scene around Plaza Murillo is far less violent, and the pigeon-filled open space is considered to be one of the finer places in the city for people-watching and socializing. While there are few places in congested La Paz to sit and enjoy a peaceful moment, ironically, Plaza Murillo is now considered the place to be.