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Great City Squares

Friday, August 30, 2002
John Fitzgerald

As scenes of celebration or protest, city squares are often the stage for national drama. They can also provide breathing space in stressful urban landscapes, and a point of reference for travellers. Here are 10 of the world's best.

1. Trafalgar Square, London

The pigeons can be a pain, but there are few better places to watch the world go by, whether you're looking down from the National Gallery steps or sitting by the blue-tiled fountains with their bronze dolphins and mermaids.

2. St. Mark's Square, Venice

Breathtaking no matter what the season or time of day, St. Mark's stirs the senses like few other places. Return time after time, and still you won't feel the wonder fade.

3. Plaza Major, Madrid

The energy here, especially during the evening hours when natives and tourists congregate, is infectious. Sample the offerings from nearby tapas bars as you sit ringside and ogle the crowds. Beware: Pickpockets abound.

4. Place des Vosges, Paris

Situated north of the Bastille on the Right Bank, this square's proportions are impeccable. In centuries past, the graceful red-brick buildings around it housed an array of notables, including Victor Hugo (at No. 6).

5. Red Square, Moscow

The old Politburo boys with the bad coats and dour fedoras must have loved taking the May Day salute here during the heyday of communism. With the Kremlin towers looking on, the vast square is impressive from any angle.

6. Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Peru's richly ornamental Cusco Cathedral and Church of the Society of Jesus overlook the activity in this busy square. By day, Quechua Indians peddle shawls and baskets, while at night, illuminated churches prove a spectacular sight.

7. Monterey Square, Savannah, Georgia

This revitalized southern city is famous for its tranquil, tree-shaded squares. Among them is this one that contains the Mercer House, home to antiques dealer Jim Williams from the bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

8. Independence Square, Kuala Lumpur

Before Malaysia gained independence in 1957, this square served as the cricket green of the snooty Royal Selangor Club, social setting for the colonial masters. It's still snooty and still in operation, albeit with a more diverse membership.

9. Union Square, San Francisco

Billed as the third-largest shopping area in the U.S., this square exudes San Francisco's sophistication. At one end, the Westin Street Francis Hotel, with its opulent big-city façade, was used in the opening shots of the vintage TV series Hotel.

10. Dominion Square, Montreal

Although not as attractive as it was before skyscrapers dwarfed it, there's still an elegance about this leafy downtown space, where a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Boer War has pride of place.


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