An interesting fact about Madrid is that one cannot walk more than fifteen minutes without coming across a green area, such as a park or a garden. Even though the city of Madrid is a large urban hub, center of commerce and business, it still is the city with the largest number of trees and green surfaces per inhabitant in Europe. Retiro Park is the largest park in Madrid and certainly one of the major attractions in the city.
Depending on where you are located in the city during your stay, whether your apartment in Madrid is in the center of the city, or you choose to rent an apartment in other districts of Madrid, you can easily use public transportation to reach the Retiro Park.
The full name of the park is the Buen Retiro Park, which is often shorted to Retiro Park, or simply Retiro. The Spanish name of the park is Parque del Buen Retiro, which means Park of the Pleasant Retreat. This name symbolizes what the park is, an oasis in the hearth of the urban city, the place to have a break of all the city hassle, a hidden retreat in the noisy surrounding of the central area of Madrid. Additionally, park also played an important role in the court life of Spain, which is why it is important part of country’s history.
History of Retiro Park
Although the park is a public area nowadays, with people being able to visit it at any moment, this has not always been the case. For centuries, the park was owned by Spanish Monarchy, and the area, which was considered a garden, had been available to members of royalty, and the guests that used to visit them.
It all started with a garden which was designed between 1631 and 1640. Count-Duke of Olivares was determined to build a royal house, which was supposed to be accompanied by gardens. Philip IV, who was on the throne at the time, thought highly of Olivares, which is why he entrusted him with this task. The goal was to build an outstanding mansion that would overshadow the villas of Roman nobles. Despite the fact that several buildings were constructed in 1630s, only two of them still remain in the park. Those are Casón del Buen Retiro, which served as a ballroom, and a building that housed the military museum.
As the construction of the building was finished in haste, the development of the garden happened simultaneously. The main asset of the garden was a pond, Estanque del Retiro. In that period, besides the visual aspect, the pond actually served for setting up mock naval battles.
When the construction of the park was finished, it became the center of the court life in Spain, as well an important center of the court life in Europe. The park was the state of the art at the time it was built, and it became a recognizable symbol of Spanish royalty. Besides being the center of the court life, the park was also a representation of Spanish art and design, with style that captured what is considered to be the last phase of Renaissance in Spain.
The situation changed after 1665, when Philip IV died. The garden was neglected, and it remained to be so until 1767 when the garden was opened for public. Prior to public opening, the garden underwent renovations and it changed the scenery. Some of the deteriorated buildings and constructions, such as old walls, were replaced, and some new buildings were added, such as Astronomical Observatory, built in the end of the 18th century.
Situation again changed during the Peninsular War in the beginning of the 19th century, when most of the palaces in the garden were destroyed. This was followed by a series of renovation projects, planting the trees and expanding the green surface, which drastically changed the original design of the garden. In 1868, the garden finally became a public park, becoming the great oasis in the center of the city.
The 20th century brought additional renovation, where statues, monuments and fountains were added into the park. Today the park is a cultural landmark of the city, as many tours include visiting the park, and some of the best known places in the park.
What to visit in Retiro Park?
Retiro Park encompasses a large area, with lot of landmarks dating from different periods, all of which are representation of the period of time that produced them. Although the park itself is a landmark, perhaps one of the most famous one in the city, there are lots of places to see in the park and here are the most important ones:
The Retiro Pond
The Retiro Pond, in Spanish the Estanque del Retiro, is the place in the park that dates back to the original garden that was first designed in this location. It is an artificial lake in the middle of the park, surrounded by trees. Additionally, some buildings have been built near the lake. Besides walking or sitting by the lake, you can always go on a boat ride.
Image source: http://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-information/parque-del-retiro
Paseo de las Estatuas
El Paseo de la Argentina del Retiro is popularly known as Paseo de las Estatuas, as it is populated by a series of statues of Spanish monarchs. Although the statues were initially placed next to the Royal Palace, they were moved in the park since the palace itself is beautifully adorned and the statues would take over the focus from the palace’s extraordinary design.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paseo_de_la_Argentina_(Retiro,_Madrid)_02.jpg
Palacio de Cristal
El Palacio de Cristal del Retiro is without doubt the most important feature of the park. The Crystal Palace was built in 1887 next to the lake. Built like a glass cathedral, the palace has massive glass walls, sustained by iron columns, with a large dome reaching the height of over 20 meters. There is a portal built in the classical Greek style, but the overall inspiration for building Palacio de Cristal was London’s Crystal Palace. Located right besides the lake, the palace even has a staircase leading to the lake.
The initial purpose of the palace was to be a greenhouse, a home to the exhibitions of flora and fauna from Philippines. This is why the walls have been created of glass, allowing transparent setting for the plants that have been kept in the greenhouse. However, the palace is no longer used for this purpose. Today, various city museums organize exhibitions in the Crystal Palace in Madrid.
Image source: http://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-information/parque-del-retiro
Palacio de Velázquez
Built between 1881 and 1883 for the occasion of celebration of Exposición Nacional de Minería in 1883, the palace was designed by an architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, which is why it is named Palacio de Velázquez. The palace is a construction covered with vaults of iron as well as glass surfaces allowing natural light into the rooms. Like the Crystal Palace, it once served as a green house, but today it belongs to the Ministry of Culture and it houses exhibitions organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
La Rosaleda is a rose garden designed in elliptical shape, surrounded by hedges that are meticulously trimmed. The garden is populated with a variety of roses that are brought from different parts of Europe, mostly from other famous European’s gardens. Although the rose garden was completely destroyed in the Civil War in 1941, it was renovated and over 4000 new rose bushes were planted. However, despite the abundance of roses, the garden lacked a systematic management in plantation of roses, which is why a new rose garden was created in 1956, in the el Parque del Oeste de Madrid, where the annual rose competition is held. Still, this is a great place to visit in the Retiro Park, as the scenery is perfect for walking around enjoying the beauty of flowers around you.
Monumento a Alfonso XII
The central area of the park occupies the monument to the King Alfonso XII. The monument is a product of national competition, where the architect José Grases Riera won with his grandiose project. The monument features the statue of the king in the center, surrounded by numerous sculptures and columns. The entire monument is built from bronze and marble, 30 meters high and 86 meters long. The monument is close to the Retiro lake with stairs leading to the lake. Besides the statues, there are two lions with cupids on both sides of the monument.
This massive monument is one of the most recognizable symbols of the park, along with the Crystal Palace, and it is frequently the stop of tourists who visit Madrid.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monumento_a_Alfonso_XII_de_Espa%C3%B1a_en_los_Jardines_del_Retiro_-_04.jpg
Fuente de la Alcachofa
This fountain was built in 1781 and it was originally placed at the Puerta de Atocha. However, the fountain was moved in 1880 to the Retiro Park, where it still stands today. The fountain represents a mixture of neoclassical style and the influence of Baroque, which follows the style present in other constructions in the park, such as the Royal Palace. The fountain has a circular center with a column formed of two parts. The first one represents the sea nymphs holding the coat of arms of Madrid. The second one is located on top of the first part of the fountain and it features four cupids on a cup.
Fuente del Ángel Caído
Fuente del Ángel Caído, meaning the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, is greatly inspired by verses from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The statue at the top of the monument was designed by Ricardo Bellver. The statue was initially housed in the Museo Nacional de Pintura y Escultura. Fully cast in bronze the statue itself is over 2.5 meters high. The fountain has a pedestal, octagonal in shape, with lizards and snakes on each side. The total height of the fountain is 7 meters. It is renowned as a monument to the devil with several possible interpretations of its true meaning. This reputation of being a sculpture devoted to the devil is supported by the fact that the statue stands 666 meters above the sea level.
Activities in the park
While the visit to the park is an amazing way to spend a day in Madrid, with lots of opportunities for sightseeing, there are numerous activities organized in the park during the year, especially between May and October, when the weather is perfect for outdoor activities.
Annual Madrid Book Fair is organized every year in Retiro Park since 1967. The fair is usually organized in late May or early June each year, and during the fair various discounts are offered for the visitors. The fair is also known to gather a lot of publishers with a huge book offer.
Other activities in the park include concerts, firework shows and other cultural events, such as exhibitions, workshops, etc. If you like exercising outdoor, you will also love the park, as it is great for running, cycling and roller-skating. There is also equipment for exercising installed in the park. Playgrounds with swings and other toys for kids are also available. You can also rent a rowboat and paddle around the lake or you can enjoy horse-drawn carriages as you ride along the park.
Lots of street performers can be seen around the park, especially near the popular landmarks, such as the lake.
How to get there?
The Retiro Park is the largest park in Madrid with 1.4 square kilometers large surface. If you choose to get to the park using metro, line 2 is the best way to go, with Retiro and Ibiza being the closest metro stops.
On the other hand, if you choose to use the public buses to get to the park, there are several lines that have stops somewhere around the Retiro Park. The bus numbers that have a stop here include: 1, 2, 9, 14, 15, 19, 20, 26, 28, 32, 51, 52, 61, 63, 74, 146, 152 and 202.