The Plaza Puerta del Sol is the perfect starting point to explore Madrid. This bustling, centrally located square is one of the city’s most lively places.
The Center of Madrid
Now the heart of Madrid’s historic center, this site used to be on the eastern border of the city. The plaza’s name originates from the eastern city gate located here in the fifteenth century. The gate was probably called after a sun drawn on it, hence the name Puerta del Sol or ‘Sun Gate’. The current semi-oval square was created in the nineteenth century.
Today, the mostly car-free square is constantly bustling with people. Several often crowded streets radiate from the Puerta del Sol and lead to important sights nearby such as the Plaza Mayor, the Opera House and the Plaza de Cibeles. To the north, a couple of wide pedestrianized shopping streets lead to the Gran Via.
Casa de Correos
In the middle of the Puerta del Sol is a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III, installed here in 1997. The King looks out on a beautiful eighteenth-century red brick building, the Casa de Correos. It was erected in 1768 as the city’s main post office after a design by the French architect Jacques Marquet. The clock tower was added later, in 1866.
In the nineteenth century the building housed the Interior Ministry. Later, during the regime of dictator Franco it served as the headquarters of the Security Police, who imprisoned political dissidents here. Today the stately building houses the regional government of Madrid.
In front of the Casa de Correos, on the pavement, is the ‘kilometer 0’ plaque, marking the center of the Spanish road network. It is the starting point from where all the highway distances are measured.
El Oso y El Madroño
The Puerta del Sol is also the location of the most famous symbol of Madrid: a twenty ton statue of a bear eating fruits from a tree. The official name of the statue is ‘El Oso y El Madroño’. The Madroño is a tree related to the strawberry tree. The female bear symbolizes the fertile soil of Madrid and the tree symbolizes the aristocracy.