Thursday, October 8, 2015

Madrid's Park of the Pleasant Retreat: El Retiro

Unusual tree in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

The Gardens of El Buen Retiro, or El Retiro, have a royal history. El Buen Retiro means "the park of the pleasant retreat," and I could not agree more. On our recent trip to Madrid — our first — we have a generous amount of time to spend in Retiro as mi suegra (mother-in-law) is playing in a Pickleball tournament at the park, and Ken and I have time to pass between matches.

The path near Puerta del Ángel Caído in Parque del Retiro

Here's a brief timeline of El Retiro:

  • 17th century: The Gardens of El Buen Retiro are created by order of Felipe IV as a leisure estate for the royalty of the House of Austria.
  • 18th and 19th centuries: Under the reigns of the House of Bourbon, lots of trees are planted, and a Royal Zoo, Royal Jetty and the Jardin de los Caprichos (king's private garden) are created. During the Spanish War of Independence, the park suffers serious damage when it is used as a fortress and quarters by French soldiers. Later, Retiro is restored, and in 1868, the park becomes city property.
  • 20th century: El Retiro is used as a venue for several international expos. The Palacio de Cristal and the Palicio de Velázquez are built for the exhibitions and remain standing today. The Cecilio Rodriquez Gardens are incorporated into the park, and the Chopera Sports Center is built.
  • 21st century: I finally visit Madrid and spend time in El Buen Retiro.

According to the Go Madrid website, the 19th century Palacio de Velázquez was originally built for a national exhibition "to celebrate the mining, metallurgy, ceramics, glass-making and mineral water industries. When the exhibition was over, the government decided to maintain the pavilion, which it intended to use as a museum for overseas exhibits. Nowadays, it is owned by the Ministry of Culture, and is used for exhibitions organised by the Museo Reina Sofia."

Palicio de Velázquez in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

Mural on exterior of Palicio de Velázquez in
Parque del Retiro

The beautiful Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. The architect was Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who also designed Palicio de Velázquez. Palacio de Cristal has a London counterpart, built 36 years before.

Palacio de Cristal in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

Palacio de Cristal in Parque del Retiro

Detail of the Egyptian fountain in Parque del Retiro

The Great Lake and monument to Alfonso XII in Parque del Retiro

Statue of Berengaria, Queen of Castille, along Paseo de la
Argentina, or Statues Walk, in Parque del Retiro

Black swans on the banks of one of several lakes in Parque del Retiro

El Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid or Royal Botanical Garden is located on the southern end of Retiro park. Its 20 acres contain roughly 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees from five continents. Our visit isn't in the most colorful of seasons, as many of the flowers have passed their prime, but we savor a quiet hour within the garden walls.

A sculpture in Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden

Water garden in Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden

Early autumn color in Madrid's Royal
Botanical Garden

Next time: I step out of the park and into the city streets of Madrid.

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