This chapter traces the evolution of Western urban public space through history from antiquity to modern times. Predominantly, the discussion is on the public square (and its variants) as a type of space, but the issues relate equally to the other forms of urban public space discussed elsewhere in the book. The first section outlines the complex evolution of public space in Europe, from the ancients through to the Renaissance and Baroque, and identifies the main functions of pre-modern European public space. The second and third sections focus on the ‘modern’ age, examining, respectively, a series of public spaces in London and then New York. A fourth section looks briefly at modernist space, and the recent return from there to designing more ‘positive’ urban space today. From the discussion, the complex and shifting relationships between spaces and their functions is identified, whilst the changing balance between public and private in the production, use and management of public space is drawn out. This is not a history book, but this brief look back helps to demonstrate how many of our contemporary preoccupations with the nature of public space in fact have very deep roots.