Where Plaza Mayor is probably the touristic city centre of Madrid, Puerta del Sol marks the real focal point and heart of the Spanish capital. This is where several main streets come together, some of the most frequented subway lines intersect, from where you can walk to the Opera and Royal Palace, the Prado, some of the most important department stores and other shops, bars, restaurants, ministries, Plaza Mayor, and several of the oldest neighbourhoods of Madrid. It is also the meeting point for many locals - the statue of the bear with a madroño tree, which is a symbol of the city, is often used as a meeting place.
The sharp observer probably notes that the name of this square is actually not a square at all: Puerta del Sol means, after all, Gate of the Sun. Actually, in the 15th century one of the city gates of Madrid could be found here. Oriented to the east, the gate was decorated with a rising sun - hence the name of the gate. Gradually, the city expanded from here, and it developed into the de facto city centre. As the Post Office was located here, it came to be a busy area. The same building was later used as the Ministry of Interior and State Security, and right now is used by the Autonomous Community of Madrid. Right on its doorstep, you can find a marker giving the exact altitude of the city (at 650 metres, the highest capital city of Europe), as well as the centre of the Spanish radial road system, the famous Kilómetro Cero.
Puerta del Sol is also used for New Year's Eve celebrations. As the clock on the bell tower of the former Post Office building counts down the seconds into the new year, and the bell rings twelve times, the big crowd gathered on the square eats the grapes, making wishes for the coming year. The square has undergone yet another upgrade in recent years. Besides the good-old landmarks like the statue of king Charles III, the fountains surrounded by flower beds, the statue of Mariblanca (Venus) and the Bear and Madroño tree which has been relocated from the northern to the eastern side, you can now also find a modern entrance to the subway hub below. Sitting at one of the fountains, probably with an ice cream in your hand, can be a great way to just let the Madrileños pass by and get a feeling of the pulse of this great city.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Puerta del Sol (Spain). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Puerta del Sol. Read more about this site.