All the roads in Madrid lead to Puerta del Sol – the city’s unofficial main square, a hugely popular meeting point, and a historic landmark inseparable from the Spanish culture.
During the 15th century, one of the city gates stood on the same site; it was orientated to the east, towards the rising sun – hence the origin of the name (Puerta del Sol literally means “the gate of the sun”).
The square as we see it today was shaped during the 19th century, when a series of renovation works took place. A century before that, in 1768, the Casa de Correos was built – as the name suggests (correo stands for “post”), the building formerly housed the post office, but today, it serves as the headquarters of the President of Madrid, the head of the regional government of the Autonomous Community of Madrid. In 1856, the clock was added to the original design. On New Year’s Eve, the clock strikes midnight – an old tradition calls for swallowing a grape with each chime. And while the entire country follows the countdown on TV (which is broadcasted since 1962), thousands of people actually flock to Puerta del Sol – where celebrations go on and on until the sunrise!
Overlooking the clock is the equestrian statue of King Carlos III, installed in 1997.
Outside the Casa de Correos, a plaque on the ground marks the Spanish KM 0 – which is the starting point of the Spanish roads network. The plaque was replaced in 2009; the previous one was placed in 1950 and by the 2000s it had become barely visible due to severe deterioration.
Puerta del Sol is also famous as the location of the city’s symbol, El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and The Strawberry Tree) – a 20-stone statue of a bear reaching out for the tree stands on the east side.
Adjoining the square is one of the most popular shopping streets in the city – Calle Preciados, with El Corte Inglés department stores and countless mass market brands. Southwest of Puerta del Sol is another landmark, Plaza Mayor. Adjoining streets feature some of the liveliest bars in the city; Calle de la Victoria and Calle de Espoz y Mina are lined with tapas bars, many of them are Andalusia-inspired.