The Puerta del Sol is the central square of Spanish capital Madrid. Literally meaning Gate of the Sun, over the last past century it surpassed the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) as main plaza of the city. Nowadays the busy square is characterized by traffic noise, police whistles and loads of people heading for the shops and tourist attractions in this old part of the capital.
The square is located on the site of the former Eastern Gate of the city, which included a gatekeeper’s house and a castle. First it was replaced by a couple of churches, but at the end of the 19th century the Madrileños decided to structure a square here, that soon developed into an area full of entertainment.
The Puerta del Sol is shaped like a half moon. A large red brick building with a far from gentle appeal occupies the straight south side. It used to be the main post office, built around 1760 by king Carlos III (Charles III). It has been the headquarters of the Ministry of Spanish Affairs since 1847. The characteristic bell tower originates from 1866. During the Franco rule many human rights were violated in the police cells below the Ministry. A member of the illegal communist party called Julián Grimau, allegedly ‘fell out of a window’ here in 1963. He miraculously survived the fall, but was executed shortly after.
The bell tower with a clock on its four sides is where many people gather at festivities, for instance to celebrate New Year. At midnight, according to tradition people have to swallow a grape to ensure the New Year to be a happy one. In front of the building, a granite symbol indicates 'km 0': the midpoint of the Spanish road network.
In the buildings opposite of the former main post office, visitors find modern shops and cafés. On the corner of the Calle del Carmen is a bronze statue of a bear eating the fruits of a berry tree (El Oso y el Madroño). These are the symbols of Madrid and also feature in the city’s coat of arms.
A famous picture of the square is the advertisement for Tío Pepe sherry on one of the surrounding buildings. The main streets that stretch towards the Puerta del Sol are the Calle Mayor, Calle del Arenal and Calle de Alcalá. Calle de Postas leads to the picturesque Plaza Mayor. The subway station underneath the square is simply called Sol.
The Puerta del Sol witnessed some significant events in history. Napoleon Bonaparte’s occupying army crushed a rebellious crowd here on May 2, 1808. The next day, the French took revenge by executing hundreds of Spaniards, rebels as well as spectators. This happening – depicted by Francisco Goya in a painting – led to the Spanish War of Independence.
In 1912 the liberal Prime Minister José Canelajas was murdered on the Gate of the Sun, while in 1931 the Second Republic was exclaimed here on the balcony of the Ministry.