The Puerta del Sol (Sun’s Gate) may not be the geometric centre of Madrid, but nobody would argue that it is its heart, in the most sentimental and symbolic sense of the word. You are in a place where, over the centuries, there has always been a mix of locals with visitors, invaders with mutineers, heroes with charlatans and ladies with young girls.
But we would have to go back on time to know its origins. More precisely to the wall that surrounded Madrid and opened one of its gates right here, looking towards Guadalajara, or, towards the East, poetically called Levante in Spanish. Either Guadalajara, Levante, or the Orient served to refer to the gate in question, until someone carved a big sun on it and, like this, without even planning it, it was baptised forever.
The City wall would end up being demolished, but some buildings were left in the surroundings, like the Church of Buen Suceso and, above all, the convent of San Felipe el Real with its famous stands in where educated people conspired, skinned and gossiped during the Golden Age. Personalities like the famous Spanish writers Quevedo and Lope de Vega were regulars here and we will never know what went on in the place while the Hapsburgs ruled the Empire.
But do not look for either the Church or the stands because you will not find them. The look of the place has changed a lot between fires, demolitions and reforms, the oldest building that has reached our days is the Royal Post Office, of 1768, which has been the headquarters of many things and now it is the seat of the Presidency of the Community of Madrid. A plaque on its wall reminds us of who, on May 2, 1808, fought here the fearsome Napoleonic Mameluke Guard, and whom Goya immortalised with his painting.
It was the clock of that same building that, in the mid-nineteenth century, had people going mad with its continuous delays, so José Rodriguez Losada, a master-watchmaker, came up with the idea of making a more accurate one and give to the town hall as a present. And yes, that is the same clock that all Spain look carefully at the last minutes of every year.
From that time it is also the Casa Cordero, built, reportedly, by a muleteer who won the lottery. The first luxury inn in Spain was in here, La Vizcaina, in which Hans Christian Andersen and other people who weren’t precisely short of money stayed.
But there is still more. In the Puerta del Sol: there are the Kilometre Zero, the Mariblanca Fountain, the Tío Pepe sign, the famous set of the Bear and the Madroño and the memories of events like the famous protest of indignant workers of May the fifteenth, 2011, which ended up being the start of a new left-wing political party.
As you can see, you are in one of those places where a lot of things happen. In other words, a place that is a must see.