Think about the busiest place in Madrid, and the first place locals would think of is the Puerta del Sol. Apart from being the busiest place in the city, it is also one of the best know places in Madrid. Lots of travelers share their photos and blog articles featuring the beauties of the Puerta del Sol, as it is a great landmark of the city, with rich cultural background and the importance the square has held over the past centuries.
The Puerta del Sol, meaning the Gate of the Sun in Spanish, is a large square located in the center of Madrid. The square was important in the history of the city, and it still is a place of great importance for the locals. Consequently, the Puerta del Sol is a must-see landmark for millions of tourists visiting the capital city of Spain every year.
The square is unique due to its location, which is the exact center of the country. Therefore, when you are on the Puerta del Sol square, at that moment you are at the central point of Spain. This is why this location is also called zero kilometer, in Spanish kilómetro cero.
The history of the Puerta del Sol
In order to demonstrate the importance of the square, we have to go back to the time the square was first constructed. Back in the 15th century, on this place there was a gate, one of many gates that surrounded the city. The purpose of the gate was to divide the center of the city in those times, and the suburbs that were getting more and more populated. The gate was facing the east and the rising sun would shine and decorate the gate, which is how the gate got its name, the Puerta del Sol.
As the suburbs outside the gate started to grow, and the city itself started to widen its boundaries, the gate was demolished but they kept the name of the gate that once stood there.
During the period between the 17th and the 19th century, this location became an important meeting place for the locals. The Post Office was located here, which is why the place was frequently visited to get the news, especially those from abroad. It became a place where people could get together, socialize and exchange information, as there was no other way to do so in those times.
In the 19th century, the building where Post Office was located, which took a prominent place in this location, was remodeled and it became the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior in 1847. During this period, other houses in this area were demolished, in order to modernize the area. This is how the square came to be. The large area was turned into a square. Several years later, during the period between the 1857 and 1862, the square suffered another reform, which resulted in the square we know today.
A hundred years later, in 1959 another reform of the square was conducted, which improved the central landscape of the square, which was also an attempt to modernize the area. The garden and fountains were added during this renovation. Almost thirty years later, the pedestrian area was improved and expanded, thus enabling this to become a great meeting point in the lives of the locals.
Between 2004 and 2009 the transportation system of Madrid was being developed, which included the Puerta del Sol. The underground station called Sol has been built and it became one of the largest metro stations with over 7000 square meters large lobby. Since the Puerta del Sol is in the central area of the city, this metro station enabled people to easily get to the center, thus avoiding the traffic jam that might occur on the streets.
Puerta del Sol today
Today, the square Puerta del Sol is a very important location in Madrid. Firstly, due to its large underground station, the places is a public transport hub with several metro lines allowing people to quickly reach the center of Madrid, as well as being a station where people switch to other metro lines when there is no direct line.
When it comes to tourist, you should know that a lot of guided tours start from this location for several reasons. Besides the fact that most tourists will easily find the square and thus find the guided tour they want to join, a lot of Madrid’s landmarks featured in these tours are located nearby, so this is a great starting point for a sightseeing tour of Madrid’s central area.
Having all of this in mind, it is naturally that this area has developed in such a way that it welcomes the visitors. Besides lots of shops, selling everything from souvenirs to clothing, there are lots of cafes and restaurants on the square or in the streets facing the square. This is very convenient for locals who are able to spend a lunch break with friends, as well as for the tourists who can take a break from sightseeing precisely here.
There are residential buildings around the square and the streets in the close vicinity, and some of them have apartments to rent, which is great for travelers who want to find an apartment in the center of Madrid. Other accommodation opportunities are also available in the central area. It all depends on what you have planned and how you want to spend your city holiday.
The traditional New Year celebration, which is broadcast on the national television, is held at the Puerta del Sol square since 1962. According to the Spanish tradition, that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, the Twelve Grapes are eaten at midnight. For each stoke of the bell a grape should be eaten according to this custom, as this leads to the year of prosperity. While this tradition has been established in the local culture, and most families celebrating at home will eat grapes after the dinner, the Puerta del Sol is the place of public celebration, where people also eat twelve grapes. As tower clock at the Puerta del Sol strikes midnight, people eat grapes and welcome the new year.
This part of the city has a lot of famous landmarks, and we want to recommend some of those worth visiting:
The landmarks on the Puerta del Sol square
Post Office building – This impressive building was one of the oldest building on this square. Located on the south of the square, the building changed its purpose several times over the centuries, and now it is the headquarters of the regional government of the Autonomous Community of Madrid. Yet, due to the history and significance it has, it is certainly worth passing by this building.
The monument to Charles III of Spain – This Spanish king ruled in the second half of the 18th century and it is remembered as a great king due to his efforts to rescue Spanish empire through different reforms such as promoting science, facilitating trade, avoiding wars, etc.
The kilómetro cero plaque – Since the square is located in the exact center of Spain, this plaque, located north of the Post Office building, honors this unique location of the Puerta del Sol.
Mariblanca – This statue is a reproduction of an ancient sculpture that once existed on this place. It represents a female future, which is thought to be designed in correlation to fertility goddesses Venus or Fortuna.
Tío Pepe – Unusually, this landmark is actually a promotional sign of famous sherry brand, but it has become one of the recognizable symbols of the Puerta del Sol square.
The landmarks near the Puerta del Sol square
Plaza Mayor – This is a large square located in the center of the city, within walking distance from the Puerta del Sol. The square is built in tradition Spanish style with elements of baroque. Its rectangular shape is unusual feature of the square that is completely surrounded by three to four storey buildings, with their distinctive red color. The place is a true tourist hub, so the restaurants, cafes and shops are packed along the square’s interior.
Casa de La Panadería – Located on the northern part of the Plaza Mayor square, this building is one of the first buildings constructed during the original construction of the square Plaza Mayor. The title of the building means a bakery house, as this was the primary purpose of the building constructed in 1619. The purpose of the building changed, along with numerous renovations, and today the Madrid Tourist Board and the Madrid Tourism Center occupy the premises inside the building.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales – This is a royal monastery called The Convent of Las Descalzas Reales in English. The monastery was built in the 16th century on the place where a palace of King Charles I of Spain once stood. Today the monastery is a national monument, visited by lots of tourists having in mind that it is located in the center of the city.
Teatro de la Zarzuela – The theatre devoted to zarzuela is also located near the Puerta del Sol. Zarzuela is a Spanish traditional music genre, which is why this theatre is a great example of a place that nurtures Spanish tradition and culture. You can either attend one of the performances organized in the theatre, or you can visit the interior of the theatre with guided tours.