What was once a potter’s field and a square for public executions is now the unofficial town square of the Village, and plays host to lounging NYU students, fire-eating street performers, curious canines and their owners, and legions of speed-chess pros. Encased in perfectly manicured brownstones and gorgeous twists of modern architecture (all owned by NYU) Washington Square Park is one of the most beautiful garden spaces in the city – especially as you are welcomed by the iconic Stanford White Arch on the north side of the green.The arch, colloquially known as the Washington Square Arch, dominates the park with its 72ft of beaming white Dover marble. Originally designed in wood to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration in 1889, the arch proved so popular that it was replaced with stone six years later and adorned with statues of the general in war and peace. In 1916 artist Marcel Duchamp famously climbed to the top of the arch by its internal stairway and declared the park the ‘Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square.’ Once it was clear that the park was here to stay, the public green became a haven for beatniks and political outcry, especially when urban planners sought to change the shape and usage of the space. Locals vehemently protested, and the square’s shape has remained largely unchanged since the 1800s.The political tradition continues even today, when Barack Obama led a rally here in 2007 to drum up support for his presidential bid. Turnout was, unsurprisingly, overwhelming.