The Puerta del Sol, or ‘gate of the sun’ is so named because it was once the site of a gate which faced the east and was adorned with an image of the sun. The gate was first built in the fifteenth century, but the building now at the heart of
the square, the Real Casa de Correos, was originally built in the 18th century. At that time the square was the place to go for news and gossip, the destination of couriers all over Spain. The building, no longer the Post Office, is now the headquarters of the President of Madrid’s Autonomous Community.
The clock tower of the Casa de Correos is the famous clock all Spaniards watch on New Year’s Eve, counting down the chimes to midnight. Tradition dictates that Spaniards must eat a grape with each chime of the clock – if they are successful, this indicates a fruitful year ahead…
The Puerta del Sol is also geographically significant for the whole of Spain; a stone slab on the pavement marks Kilometre Zero, which is the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National Roads.
Also in the square is the stature of El oso & Madroño, or The Bear and the Tree, which is the official symbol of the city. The origin of the statue, and the symbol, is unclear; however, it may be as simple as an allusion to the bears in the fields around Madrid and the trees which used to grow there! It has been moved several times in its history, but now stands where it was originally intended to. It is the work of sculptor Antonio Navarro Santa Fe.
More recently the square has been the home of thousands of indignados, or protestors, who congregated there in May 2011 during regional elections to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the government and the Spanish economy. The original camps were cleared by the police, but in late July 2011 the quare was once more packed with tents and stalls, welcoming marchers
from all over the country. The marchers, their act a response to the country’s debt crisis and a demand for ‘real democracy’, were welcomed with the sign “Bienvenida dignidad”, or “Welcome dignity”.
Hannah Shaddock, photo: Amanda Green