If you were born in Spain in the last few decades of the last century you surely know and probably are humming now, the well-known song about la Puerta de Alcalá which went on to become a huge success in Spain and throughout South America, it also made its singers Ana Belen and Victor Manuel very famous back in in the 80s.
Luckily for the Gate and also for us, not everything is about a million dollar songs and number one hits. The Gate’s history and anecdotes go way further, just like we are going to tell you right now.
As it happens, at this moment you are standing beside one of the most representatives and well known symbols of the Capital. Although today seems hard to believe, between so much traffic, buildings and pedestrians, this gate marked one of the limits and the access to the city back in the sixteenth century.
Like many other cities, Madrid was still fortified, surrounded by walls and the only way to access the interior was through a series of gates. But don’t let anyone mix you up!!, the main function of this gates and walls was not to stop the enemies, but to watch who and most important what was brought into the city in order to charge the relevant taxes over the people and the goods. The public finances of the time were already supervising the exports and imports of the city.
But, over time, cities grow and the walls and gates begin to be more of a nuisance than an effective system of surveillance and collection, especially when the heavy transit kept collapsing them.
Like this, we reach the 18th century when, finally, the best solution for this gates is to get them demolish and to let the city expand freely. But luckily for these beautiful gates, in this same century an illustrated figure arrives, eager to not only become the king but also the best mayor of his new city. The illustrious, hairy and neoclassic new king, Carlos III, who had the great idea, that instead of demolishing the gate maybe it would be better to turn it into a decorative element, like the ancient triumphal arches of the Roman Empire.
No sooner said than done, the advantages of being the king… A conversation with his favourite architect, the Neapolitan Francesco Sabatini, and we have the first Triumphal Arch built in Europe since the Roman era. Yes, yes the first one… Later Napoleon or the Prussian Hohenzollern would copy the idea for their own capital cities.
Since that distant year of 1778, in which Carlos III was able to see his project completed, there has been many events and many characters have wandered between its arches; illustrious writers, Kings, presidents, loyal and disloyal troops and even the Pope.
One more curious fact. Also around here they have transited and still do the flocks from the Cañada Real Galiana on their way from La Rioja to Ciudad Real. You can see one of the two landmarks if you get close to the northwest of Independence Square at the corner between Alcalá street and Serrano street. The other one is to the left of the entry of the Retiro Park, beside the bus stop.
As you can see, between songs and memories, walls and gate, nobles and troops there is also a space for the more traditional things.