The largest public squares were born from the ancient Greek ‘agora’, literally ‘gathering place’ or ‘assembly’. They were the focal point for a city’s social, political, commercial and cultural life. They evolved into marketplaces in mediaeval times, and eventually to become venues for public speeches, protests, festivals, and celebrations in modern society. Distinct in design and spirit, every square, from the smallest spaces to the largest square in the world, shares a common purpose: to serve as the nucleus of civic life.
The biggest public squares tell tales of their cities’ histories, their triumphs and defeats, and their evolution. They are often home to iconic landmarks, creating a sense of place and identity, and contributing to the elements that make the world’s cities unique. Many have witnessed some of history’s most significant events.
Let’s take a journey across continents and explore these remarkable places. From their architecture and aesthetics to the integral roles they play in society, here are the contenders for the title of the biggest town square in the world.
Location: Moscow, Russia | Size: 24,750 m2 | Built: 15th century
With its origins dating back over six hundred years, Red Square may not be the largest square in the world but it is one of the most famous and instantly recognisable. Containing Lenin’s Mausoleum and bordered by the stunning onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin’s eastern walls and the State Historical Museum, Red Square has been a marketplace and a stage for public ceremonies. More recently, it has been the location of military parades and concerts and is Russia’s most visited tourist site.
Place de la Concorde
Location: Paris, France | Size: 76,900 m2 | Built: 1757 – 1772
The most famous city square in Paris, Place de la Concorde is also one of the most beautiful. It was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel and its stunning centrepiece is the 3,300 year old Luxor Obelisk celebrating the reign of Rameses II, a gift from Egypt to France in 1829. Situated at the eastern end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde was also the site of the executions of Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI and Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution.
Location: Warsaw, Poland | Size: 240,000 m2 | Built: 1950s
One of the biggest town squares in Europe, Plac Defilad, or Parade Square, was built by the government of the Polish People’s Republic for, among other things, propaganda parades. It’s bordered to the west by the Palace of Culture and Science, one of Europe’s tallest buildings and at one time, the tallest clock tower in the world.
Location: Monterey, Mexico | Size: 400,000 m2 | Built: 1980s
Also known as La Gran Plaza, one of Mexico’s most famous landmarks is also the country’s biggest town square. It was built as part of an urban renewal program and the square is home to the Faro del Comercio (Commerce’s Lighthouse) which shoots a green laser into the surrounding mountains. The square features several beautiful gardens, including the Jardín Hundido (Sunken Garden) and the Jardín de las Artes (Garden of the Arts).
Location: Beijing, China | Size: 440,000 m2 | Built: 1651
One of the world’s largest public squares, Tiananmen Square in Beijing is also one of the most famous. The 600-year old Tiananmen, or ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’, separates the square from the Forbidden City to the north, and along the eastern side is the National Museum of China. The square is also home to the Great Hall of the People and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia | Size: 1,000,000 m2 | Built: 1961 – 1976
Merdeka is an Indonesian word meaning ‘independence’ or ‘freedom’, and in the centre of one of the largest public squares in the world is the 132-metre tall obelisk known as the National Monument. The square hosts civic events as well as military and float parades and is a very popular sport and recreation destination for Jakartans.
Location: Dalian, China | Size: 1,760,000 m2 | Built: 1993 – 1997
Xinghai Square, which translates as ‘Sea of the Stars’, was built entirely from reclaimed land and is actually circular, rather than square. Regardless, it’s still widely regarded as being the largest square in the world, and was completed in 1997. The main square is 1.1 million m2 but the outer park areas take it to 1.76 million m2. The inner circle of the Xinghai Square has a diameter of 199.9 metres to celebrate the centenary of the city in 1999 and the diameter of the outer circle is 239.9 metres, which will celebrate the city’s 500th anniversary.
The World’s Most Famous City Square
We’ve been through some of the biggest public squares in the world but which squares are the most famous?
St Peter’s Square in Vatican City was designed in the seventeenth century by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and is one of the most beautiful – and well known – in the world. Close to St Peter’s is Piazza Navona, built on the site of the 1st century Stadium of Domitian and is a stunning example of Baroque architecture.
London’s Trafalgar Square, completed in 1840 to commemorate the British naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and home to Nelson’s Column, is also a contender for the title of the most famous city square in the world. However, probably the most famous city square in the world isn’t even a square.
New York’s Times Square is in fact the intersection of 42nd Street, Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and the bowtie-shaped junction is one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, welcoming almost 50 million visitors a year.
It was originally known as Longacre Square but it was changed in 1904 when the New York Times moved their HQ into the iconic One Times Square. Covered in digital billboards, it’s ranked as one of the world’s most expensive advertising locations.
It’s not the largest square in the world, in fact it doesn’t even come close, but it is – probably – the most famous city square in the world, and as seems to be the pattern for the top picks, it isn’t even a square at all.