Without a doubt, the Puerta del Sol is an iconic image and symbol of Madrid.
The Puerta del Sol is one of the most famous corners of Spain’s capital and one of your musts on a trip to Spain and visiting Madrid.
Even more, Puerta del Sol is considered the geographic center of Madrid and Spain.
This square is where the “Kilometer 0” of the country’s radial roads is located, with a plaque on the ground that reminds all visitors of it.
But it may surprise you to know that centuries ago, during the 15th century, the place occupied by the Puerta del Sol was on Madrid’s medieval wall’s outer limits, which was also the case with the Plaza Mayor.
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The latter was just where merchants gathered who did not want to enter the walled city not to pay taxes.
Up until mid 18th century, the square that makes up the Puerta del Sol as we see it now did not exist.
In 1766, the Casa de Correos was built, commissioned by a French architect, one of Madrid’s most charismatic buildings, which has become Puerta del Sol’s image.
It was not until 1857, the year in which the Casa de Correos, became the principal office of the Ministry of the Interior when the urban remodeling of this area of Madrid began.
At that time, several buildings’ demolition allowed to accomplish the new square configuration just as it is today. The new buildings built had that same semicircular shape, delimiting the square’s characteristic arrangement to the north.
The square’s current design, with large pedestrian space, results from the last remodeling in 1986. However, the remodeling ended up until later with the Metro’s construction and the commuter train’s underground interchange.
Another charismatic element of the square is the 19th century Casa de Correos Clock. It is prevalent as it has been the Spanish Timekeeper for decades and reference in Spain to start a New Year.
The Monuments at the Puerta del Sol
Equestrian Statue of Carlos III
The Equestrian Statue of Carlos III, contrary to what you may think, is very recent. It was inaugurated in 1994, and its final location was the result of a popular vote.
The reason? Pay homage to the king, who was considered the best mayor of Madrid, for his significant contribution to the city’s urban development during his reign in the 18th century.
But also, did you know that the statue is a larger copy of a small model that Carlos III himself commissioned in his day to make a statue of his father, Felipe V?
This model is in the Real Academia de San Fernando, and the sculptors Miguel Angel Rodríguez and Eduardo Zancada used it to make the bronze work that we now see in Puerta del Sol.
In this way, two of the three sculptures that currently exist in the Puerta del Sol, the statue mentioned earlier of Carlos III and the statue of Mariblanca, are copies of others preserved in different places in the city.
It represents Diana or Venus, brought from Italy in 1625 and installed on top of a fountain built in 1570.
It soon became known as La Mariblanca among the water carriers who frequented this fountain, a name that reflected the marble’s white color to make the sculpture.
Since then, La Mariblanca has been in different locations in Madrid.
In the early 20th century, the La Mariblanca statue’s new location was in the Retiro Park, and since 1969, on the Paseo de Recoletos.
The current location of La Mariblanca dates back to the last reform of the square in 2009, where the whiteness of the statue stands out on a column.
However, visit the Casa de la Villa, the historic seat of the Madrid City Council. You will see that the original Mariblanca shows the characteristic yellowish color of the passage of time.
Image: Mariblanca | Carlos Delgado (Kadellar) | Creative Commons
El Oso y el Madroño
But perhaps the most famous statue in Puerta del Sol is “El Oso y el Madroño” – The Bear and the Strawberry Tree –, which you can now see on the east side of the square, at the entry point from Calle de Alcalá.
The Bear and the Strawberry Tree have been the protagonists of Madrid’s heraldic shield for a very long time, and their image appears represented in numerous places and documents.
The origin dates back to the 13th century when King Alfonso VIII already used the Bear’s image on his banners, which were very abundant in the area.
The sculpture that you can see in Puerta del Sol is very recent, as Antonio Navarro Santafé sculpted it in 1967.
The sculpture is made of stone and bronze, weighs 20 tons, and is four meters high.
Since installed in Puerta del Sol, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree sculpture has occupied various places.
It was located in the eastern part of the square, between Alcalá and Carrera de San Jerónimo streets, right in front of the Tio Pepe Billboard building.
After the remodeling of the square in 1986, the City of Madrid Council moved the sculpture to Carrer del Carmen’s front.
Finally, after Puerta del Sol’s new configuration, in September 2009, the sculpture has returned to the eastern area, now facing Calle de Alcalá.
Tio Pepe Historic Billboard
One of the icons associated with Puerta del Sol’s image in Madrid is the neon advertisement for Tio Pepe, which is on top of building number 1 in this central square in the capital. It was declared a Historical Advertising Sign by the City Council, which ensures its permanence in that place.
This advertising billboard installed in the Puerta del Sol in 1935 will continue to be one of the most typical images of Puerta del Sol in Madrid, thanks to the fact that, given its historical character, it has been “pardoned” by the City Council to apply the city’s new advertising regulations.
After its original installation, the advertising billboard for Tio Pepe, from the Gonzalez Byass company, underwent various modifications, but it has remained unchanged in the last 60 years.
In the 1960s, a remodeling of the city center involved removing all the illuminated signs on top of the Puerta del Sol buildings. Still, the Tio Pepe billboard remained on the historic Paris Hotel structure’s roof due to the high costs involved in its dismantling.
In the end, the illuminated neon sign of Tio Pepe is the only one that remains in the Puerta del Sol, and after his “pardon,” it will continue to form part of the image of the central square of Madrid.
Now, let’s talk about some of those very well-known delicacies that Madrid’s city is about, and you can find them at the Puerta del Sol.
Chocolate with Churros
The winter season in Madrid, usually cold and sometimes unpleasant due to the rain, is the best invitation to taste chocolate with churros.
You can find the Chocolatería San Ginés on Calle de Arenal, number 11, behind the church of San Ginés, in a passage with the same name.
The Chocolatería de San Ginés of Madrid was founded in 1894, making it one of the city’s centennial establishments.
Since its opening, this Chocolateria became one of Madrid’s most popular places to taste hot chocolate with churros.
Besides being next to the Eslava Theater (now converted into a nightclub), it soon gained fame for being a meeting place for night owls to have the famous chocolate with churros.
Currently, its fame is maintained, especially on New Year’s Eve, as it is one of the busiest chocolate shops in the city.
Turrón has been a sweet indulgence on the Iberian Peninsula for over a thousand years. By combining Spain’s Marcona almonds with wildflower honey found in the mountains near Jijona, the Moors produced a delicious variation of their own halva candy, a nougat candy called turrón. Turrón is still proudly produced with the same natural ingredients in the town of Jijona, and has become a traditional favorite – especially around Christmas. Enjoy Turrón and other distinctly Mediterranean treats, such as Mantecados and Polvorones cookies, with family and friends and evoke the warm spirit of a traditional Spanish gathering!Tienda.com
What you will find at La Mallorquina pastry shop is that it is always full with people buying its famous buns and cakes any day of the year at any time of the day.
Located at Puerta del Sol and Calle mayor’s corner, you may not know that La Mallorquina dates back to 1894, and it is one of the most popular and best-known establishments in Puerta del Sol.
You can buy delicious artisan nougat “Turrones” and the typical “Roscones de Reyes” at Christmas.
Image: La Mallorquina (Madrid) | Tamorlan | Creative Commons
On the opposite side of Puerta del Sol, specifically, at number 30 Carrera de San Jerónimo, you have a centuries-old pastry shop that has earned its prestige as a manufacturer of artisanal nougat: Casa Mira.
The tradition of this patisserie as a manufacturer (it does not have a lounge or cafeteria) is relatively easy to understand if you know that its founder in 1855 was a pastry chef who came to Madrid from Jijona to sell his delicious artisan nougat (Turrones).
Luis Mira started in Madrid in 1842 with a small stand in the Plaza Mayor.
Image: Casa Mira | Tamorlan | Creative Commons
There you have it. Keep these facts in mind on your next trip to Madrid.