Madrid's iconic city gate is a work of art in its own right.
The Puerta de Alcalá once stood on the eastern edge of Madrid on the road to Alcalá de Henares, Cervantes’ place of birth and home to an important university. Spain’s capital has since grown outwards in all directions and the old city gate stands as a picturesque monument to the past right in the centre of hustling, bustling, modern-day Madrid.
Midway through the 18th century, King Carlos III commissioned a new gate to take the place of the less impressive original which had stood there since 1559. The new gate was built in conjunction with the architect Francisco Sabatini, with most of the decorative work (the friezes, reliefs and statues) drawn up by Robert de Michel and Francisco Gutiérrez.
A proud example of neoclassical architecture, lions' heads adorn the gate’s three principal arches while there are horns of plenty depicted on the reliefs above the two smaller rectangular gateways. Columns prop up the gate’s eastern face, while at its crown is an inscription in honour of the King who commissioned it, reading “Rege Carolo III Anno MDCCLXXVIII”. Look out also for the allegorical statues that stand sentry at the very top.
If you’re able to get a close enough look, you might notice that some of the stonework has been damaged. This is the work of a canon shell in the early 1800s. It’s not always easy to get too close to the Puerta de Alcalá because it stands at a busy intersection and there's often a lot of traffic. You might be better off enjoying the view from one of the nearby restaurants and hotels, or from an adjacent street corner. The gate is lit up after dark, making nocturnal visits especially striking. There's also a small but well-kept garden around the base.
You can reach Puerta de Alcalá by heading east from Plaza del Sol along Calle de Alcalá. It's right next to El Retiro, so Retiro station is a good place to get off if you're travelling here by metro.