The Gate of the Sun is a perfect symbol for the approximate geographic center of the country, as well as of ancient pagan allusions to the power of the sun gods, both the Celtic Lugh and the Greco-Roman Zeus, who each in his turn governed Iberia.
This heart center of Madrid became the nation’s official point zero under Carlos III.
In the 18th century Carlos III built the Royal Post Office (now called the Gobernación, the head office of the President of Madrid’s autonomous region) and its clock tower in the 18th. (You can see Carlos III’s statue astride a horse in the center of the Puerta del Sol.) He also created the radial of major roads that left from this central point to outer destinations in a sun burst pattern.
The Gobernación’s famous clock tower is the one of new Year’s Eve fame, seenw splayed across television screens around the country as midnight approaches. (It’s also here where you’ll see people gulping down twelve grapes at midnight.)
In front of the post office, inlaid in the sidewalk, is the kilometer zero marker that became the
official point from which all distances in Spain were measured. This has been so since Carlos III’s time and continuing to the present.
The marker plaque was placed there in the mid-1950s. Though this kilometer zero marker is not actually the exact center of the Iberian Peninsula—that site has been determined to be around ten kilometers south of the city—the Puerta del Sol it certainly Madrid’s and Spain’s symbolic center.
The Puerta del Sol has been witness to many dramatic moments in Madrid’s history. Perhaps no more dramatic was the resistance fighting against Napoleon’s troops that came to a head here the first two days in May in 1808. Henceforth referred to as the revolt of Dos de Mayo, Second of May, there are many monuments throughout Madrid commemorating the two days when Madrileños rose up and tried to throw off the foreign occupying power. The citizens were severely pushed down and many lost their lives and or were badly injured. It took another five years, in 1813, to push out the French.
It was also from the Puerta del Sol that the Second Republic was declared in 1931. It was a grand but short-lived moment that would crumble quickly into the Spanish Civil War.
If you are walking, your next stop is the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.