In 1957, the Ghanaian politician and revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah led the Gold Coast, now Ghana, to its independence from Britain. Nkrumah became the first prime minister and president of Ghana, and to celebrate his nation’s newfound autonomy, he commissioned the construction of a huge public square.
Black Star Square, also known as Independence Square, is located in Accra, Ghana, and is now the site for all the major military and civic parades in the Ghanaian capital. It was completed in 1961 to coincide with the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II. The young Queen was keen to keep the unstable African republic within the Commonwealth, and was adamant on making the tour of Ghana despite a spate of bombings that were rocking Accra in protest of Nkrumah’s rule.
From the first parades in honor of the Queen’s visit all the way up to the present day, Black Star Square has hosted all of the country’s major national public gatherings, national festivals, military parades, concerts, and occasional fashion shows. None of these are more important than the Independence Day parades held in the square each year on March 6.
To accommodate spectators at these events, large stands with a total seating capacity of 30,000 surround the edges of the square. And while these stands and the square itself are packed with people during events, the vast space tends to be all but empty on a typical day, save for a few soldiers and a scattering of tourists who come to see the principal monuments that sit on and around the park.
These monuments include the Independence Arch to the south of the square, backdropped by the Gulf of Guinea. On the opposite side of the square but facing the arch is the Memorial of the Unknown Soldier, which honors the Ghanaian soldiers who fell fighting for their country. Just to the north of the main square is a roundabout, in the center of which stands the Black Star Gate, an imposing monument topped by the Black Star of Africa, the five-pointed star that symbolizes Africa in general and Ghana in particular. The monument bears the large inscription “AD 1957” and “Freedom and Justice.”
In terms of overall size, there is an oft-repeated claim that Black Star Square is the second largest city square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing. That, however, is wrong on a few counts. Firstly, Tiananmen Square is not the largest square in the world, but does sit comfortably in the top 10. Secondly, Black Star Square has an approximate area of 1,057,238 square feet (98,220 sq meters), and that’s a generous approximation. That could maybe squeeze the square into the world’s top 30 at best, perhaps rivaling Millennium Park in Chicago. And then, of course, there’s the whole definition of city parks, parade grounds etc. Still, it’s fair to say that Black Star Square could well be the largest square of its type in Africa, and that’s no mean achievement.