Home > Decoration Encyclopedia > The World's Most Beautiful City Squares

The World's Most Beautiful City Squares

by Rick Anderson

From Marrakech’s clamorous Djemaa el-Fnaa to Mexico City’s sprawling Zócalo, public squares are where “humanity, urban life, and history” converge, notes Catie Marron, editor of the new book City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares Around the World (Harper). And every square possesses its own peculiar, often unsettling magic, as the 18 blue-chip contributors to City Squares explore in essays that range from New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik’s paean to Paris’s Places des Vosges to architect David Adjaye’s admiration for the Djemaa el-Fnaa to novelist Ann Beattie’s tribute to Boston’s Harvard Yard. Even ad hoc squares, such as one that provides a social anchor within a Palestinian refugee camp, are examined, because, Marron observes, “Squares are all about, and for, people.”

Djemaa El-Fnaa, Marrakech

AD100 architect David Adjaye describes Marrakech’s great public gathering place, the centerpiece of the city’s ancient medina, as one of the “few places on earth [that offers] such a holistic sensory experience, where the scent of mint tea joins the competing sounds of mopeds and the rhythmic drumming of local musicians against a colorful palette of umbrellas from the nearby bazaar.”

Fitzroy Square, London

“One of the most beautiful of London’s squares,” writes British historian Andrew Roberts, Fitzroy Square embodies “the ambitions of the eighteenth-century Whig aristocracy to create healthful, open city architecture where a shared symmetry of vista might promote social harmony.”

Harvard Square, Boston

To novelist Ann Beattie, Boston’s Harvard Yard possesses a “mixture of old and that [that] is slightly disorienting and sometimes dazzling, proclaiming the place’s timeless adaptability. The remembered images are like a sort of flip-book of your youth, letting you move through the succession of yous you have been.”

Maidan-e-Pompa, Kabul, Afghanistan

The British government’s minister of the environment and a founder of the Afghan charity Turquoise Mountain, Rory Stewart helped transform a trash-strewn area that remained after the demolition of some houses into the erstwhile Maidan-e-Pompa, or the square of the pump. He hoped that it would become an urban living room; instead, he recalls, “what I loved so much about that square (and any square)—the glimpses of the private façades, the intersection of the two quite different streets, and the open public space in between—was, for many of the [residents], a scandal.”

Places des Vosges, Paris

In Adam Gopnik’s meditation, “The quiddity, the magic spell, the resonance the Place des Vosges casts lies in some mood between the tranquil and the melancholic,” calling it “a great civic gem that for a long while, no one quite knew was there.”

Red Square, Moscow

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum finds Moscow’s Red Square, famously a majestic stage set for displays of political might, most impressive in winter. “When empty of people and covered in snow,” she observes, “it most vividly evokes the wide-open spaces of the Russian east: the steppe, the taiga, the tundra, and the conquering horsemen who have roamed across them.”

Leave a Comment