Puerta del Sol, MadridCategory: Madrid
Puerta del Sol, which is located just a short walk from the famous Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, is the capital city’s most popular and centralized square. During earlier times, the square was the site of one of the city’s gates—a gate that faced eastward and was adorned with an image of the sun, hence the name Puerta del Sol. As the city’s most central location, Puerta del Sol has become a very popular spot for tourists to stay when visiting Madrid, and there are now many hotels, hostels and tourist apartments situated very near the square.
Puerta del Sol’s current shape, which is almost perfectly semi-circular, is the result of major renovations to the area which took place in the years between 1854 and 1860. On the “flat” or south side of the square visitors will notice a large clock tower, which is actually part of the Real Casa de Correos, one of the most famous and historical buildings in the area. Originally built in the 18th century as part of the Post Office, the building now functions as the headquarters of the President of Madrid’s Autonomous Community.
If you happen to be visiting Madrid towards the end of the calendar year, you will no doubt want to make your way down to Puerta del Sol to enjoy the massive outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration held there. On this night, thousands of Madrilènos brave the cold as they wait for the clock tower on the Real Casa de Correos to strike twelve-midnight, at which time they follow the Madrid tradition of eating one grape for each of the clock’s twelve chimes.
Puerto del Sol is the starting point, or radial center for Spain’s six national roads. This distinction is marked outside the Casa de Correos on a stone slab in the pavement, with the markings “Kilometer Zero.” The slab was originally placed in the square in 1950, but after years of deterioration it was finally replaced with an updated version in 2009.
Puerta del Sol is home to many famous statues, the most important of which is El Oso y El Madrono, or the “Bear and the Strawberry Tree.” This statue is located at the east end of the square below the famous Tio Pepe advert. For many years now the Bear and the Strawberry Tree has been the unofficial symbol of Madrid. The origins for this are bit unclear, but most historians believe that many bears once roamed in the fields outside of Madrid, and the “strawberry tree” was most likely a reference to the huckleberry tree, which once existed in abundance throughout the city.
Other statues in Puerta del Sol include a reproduction of the Mariblanca Statue (the original is in the National Museum), which is said to represent Venus or Diana the Hunter; and a statue of King Carlos III. The latter of these two was placed in the square by popular demand to commemorate the King, who earned the title the “Mayor of Madrid” for the many improvements he made to the city during his reign.
Puerta del Sol is a very vibrant part of the city and offers visitors many interesting things to do and see, including several shops, bars and restaurants. It is also the starting point from which to explore some of Spain’s most heavily-traveled streets, including Arenal Street, on which tourists will find many small boutiques and specialty stores; Calle Mayor, the street leading to the historically-renowned Plaza Mayor; and Calle Preciados, a pedestrian street featuring a number of large department stores and international shops.