Retiro Park in Madrid. Like the major European capitals also Madrid, the capital of Spain, has its own emblematic city park: The Gardens of El Retiro.
What do Hyde Park, Central Park and the Bois de Boulogne all have in common? These large parks full of nature are the lungs of their respective cities: London, New York and Paris. Madrid, the capital of Spain, has its own emblematic city park: The Gardens of El Retiro.
Around the decade of 1630, the Count-Duke of Olivares, Gaspar de Guzman, advisor to King Felipe IV, offered the monarch some uncultivated pieces of land as a gift. The land, measuring about 140 hectares, was located in the vicinity of the San Jerónimo el Real Monastary. A palace was built here as a place for royalty to get away and relax. At that time, the area was still removed from the city on the outskirts of Madrid, but it wasn’t too far away, and its forest and fresh air made this an attractive place to visit. Other facilities were built around the palace, such as the Casón del Buen Retiro, the Salón de Reinos and the garden area, all of which still stand today.
The large garden area was developed at the same time as the living spaces. These included a lion’s cage (used to exhibit wild animals until they were transferred to the Casa del Campo Zoo around 1970), an octagon shaped pond and an estuary, all of which are still preserved. As the years passed, the gardens were extended and at times restructured. Felipe V requested the creation of the Parterre Gardens, which visitors can also still see today. Carlos III ordered the construction of the Royal Porcelain Factory; he was also the first monarch to allow public access to the complex under the condition that visitors be “clean and well-dressed”. His successor, Carlos IV, had the astronomical observatory built.
The 1808 French invasion during the end of Carlos IV’s reign led to the deterioration of the area (among many other consequences). Nearly the entire palace was demolished after it was used by French troops as barracks.
After the War of Independence under Fernando VII, the park was partially rebuilt and leisure areas were added, such as the Artificial Mountain. The king followed the example left by Carlos III by opening a portion of the park for the enjoyment of the public.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1868, the city took possession of the gardens and opened them up to the public. The city also reorganized the space, creating for example the Paseo de Coches, la fuente de las Galápagos (Fountain of the Galapagos), la Fuente de la Alcachofa (Fountain of the Artichoke) and la Fuente del Ángel Caído (the Fountain of the Falling Angel). This period also saw the construction of el Palacio de Cristal (The Crystal Palace) and the Velazquez Palace. The head gardener, Cecilio Rodriguez, designed the gardens that still bear his name, such as the Rosaleda.
Finally, in the 1980’s, a general time of joy and renovation in Madrid, then mayor Enrique Tierno Galvan named a person admired by all to be the Honorary Mayor of Retiro Park: the cartoonist Antonio Mingote.
This park, the lungs of Madrid, is now a place for the city’s residents to hang out and relax in. It’s also a must-visit attraction for visitors, who can enjoy a boat ride in the pond under the watchful gaze of the statue of Alfonso XII on horseback while the puppets, magicians, musicians and fortune tellers all line the pond’s walkway offering performances in exchange for some change.
Going for a walk around Retiro Park also offers a scenic panorama of Spanish sculpture, where you’ll find hidden in the park’s nooks and crannies works by Mariano Benlliure: (the sculpture of Alfonso XII on horseback) and the monuments of Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramon y Cajal and Victorio Macho.
El Palacio de Cristal frequently holds exhibitions of modern art, while the Paseo de Coches has become the official home of Madrid’s Book Fair.
The more than 23,000 trees that call the park their home, la Rosaleda, the gardens, ponds and fountain, all invite us to relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
Retiro Park; a park for the people of Madrid and a corner of the city not to be missed by the informed visitor.