By the 18th century, the Jewish community of Tzfat had begun to expand significantly. A large infusion of Ashkanazim, Eastern European Jews, was expanding the population, and new housing was needed. Until that time, the community had been located about halfway down the mountain, above the cemetery, but with the arrival of Jews from Eastern European countries, new neighborhoods needed to be added, and the expansion was directed upwards, towards the mountaintop.
In the middle of this new neighborhood, Kikar HaPachim, Coal-Seller's Square, was built. As its name indicates, it was the central area for the sale of heating and cooking coals for Tzfat, and as such, became a commercial center of the Tzfat Jewish community. Other shops opened in the Kikar in addition to those selling coal, and if any area could be said to be the core of the Old Jewish Quarter, it was Kikar HaPachim.
This reputation was solidified during Tzfat's War of Independence, when the Palmach, the fighting arm of the Jewish Defense Forces (later the Israel Defense Forces) established their headquarters in the square. It was here that Moshe Peled and Yigal Alon, commanders of the Haganah, commanded the small Jewish force which defended the Old Jewish Quarter, then going on to capture all of Tzfat. (A second fighting force, the Irgun, was centered elsewhere). After the War, Kikar HaPachim was renamed Kikar HaMeginim, "Defender's Square" in honor of the fighters who liberated Tzfat.
Four main lanes of the Old City jut out from Kikar HaMeginim - Bar Yochai Street, HaMeginim Street, Tarpat Street and Hatam Sofer Street. This spider's web is the heart of the Old Jewish Quarter, and most of Tzfat's Old City commercial activity, synagogues, and artists' galleries are accessible directly from the Kikar. Aside from private homes and offices, a well-known dairy restaurant, Tree of Life, is located in the Kikar, as is Tzfat's most delectable ice-cream parlor.
Kikar HaMeginim is also known for its activities on Jewish holidays, when various synagogues spill out of their doors to come to the Kikar to celebrate. Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), Simhat Torah (Celebration of Receiving the Torah) and other holidays see the prayer shawl-clad men from various synagogues congregating in the Kikar to dance and sing - of late, many synagogues gather in Kikar HaMeginim on Shabbat evenings as well as they sing and dance the Kabbalat Shabbat, Welcoming the Sabbath, service.