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The Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) is one of Madrid’s most famous spots, a bustling meeting place in the heart of the city. Originally it was a gate in the medieval walls that surrounded the city and today, it might be one of the first places you see in the city – its metro line brings many visitors into Madrid. We take a look at the top 10 things to see and do around the Puerta del Sol.
This sculpture, of a bear eating from a madroño, or strawberry tree, depicts the famous symbol that has featured on Madrid’s coat of arms since the 13th century. The bronze and stone statue was made by Spanish sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafé and was unveiled in 1967.
As well as featuring on the coat of arms of Madrid, the image of the bear and the strawberry also appears on the badge of local football club Atlético Madrid.
The oldest building on the Puerta del Sol is today the headquarters of the Madrid regional government. It was built by French architect Jacques Marquet between 1766 and 1768 and was originally the city’s main post office. It was the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior and State Security during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
This small stone plaque, on the ground in front of the Casa de Correos is easy to walk past but marks an important spot in Spain – the point where all the roads of the Spanish road network meet and are measured from.
The statue that dominates the centre of the square is that of Charles III on horseback. The king was nicknamed “the best king-mayor of Madrid” for the many projects he undertook to improve the city during his reign (1759-1788) – doing everything from building hospitals to founding Spain’s lottery, which remains wildly popular to this day.
One of Madrid’s most famous bakeries is handily located right on the Puerta del Sol. La Mallorquina was founded in 1894 and ever since has been one of Madrileños’ favourite places to pick up a sweet snack. The bakery, which has two takeaway counters and a coffee counter downstairs along with a sit-down café upstairs, is famous for its napolitanas – delicious pastries filled with either a custard-like cream or chocolate (€1.30).
The Puerta del Sol has long been the centre of protests and demonstrations in the city and was the centre of the 2011 indignados movement. The movement was a reaction to Spain’s crippling economic crisis and the country’s high unemployment rates and began with hundreds of thousands of people packing into the Puerta del Sol on May 15, 2011 to protest. It’s common to see protests on the square most weeks, from anti-bullfighting demos to protests against the government.
Above the shop on the corner of Calle de Carretas is a plaque that the vast majority of people walk straight past but one that marks an important historical moment that took place on the square – the assassination of Prime Minister José Canalejas. He was browsing a bookshop when was shot by anarchist Manuel Pardiñas.
The square is a place of commemoration – the façade of the Casa de Correos building holds plaques dedicated to citizens to were killed in the March 11 2004 train bombings and all those who helped their fellow Madrileños that day. Another plaque on the building pays homage to citizens who rose up against French troops on May 2 1808.
One of the Puerta del Sol’s most iconic images is the huge, neon sign advertising Spanish sherry brand, Tio Pepe. The sign has been on the square since 1936 but was removed from its original home, at No 1 (the current Apple Store), when the building was undergoing renovations. After a three year absence, it was brought back to the square, this time above No 11, to great fanfare in 2014.
If you happen to be in Madrid over New Year, then the Puerta del Sol is a must-visit. People pack into the square in the run-up to midnight for the celebrations, which are broadcast live on Spanish television. It is traditional to eat 12 grapes on the 12 gongs of midnight that ring out from the clock on the Casa de Correos building. It is said that if you successfully eat the 12 grapes, you will have luck and prosperity for the year to come.