A GUIDEPOST REPRINT: “La Granja: Spain’s Little Versailles”, 21 August 1970

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21 August 1970


GP cover, 21 August 1970

The highway from Madrid passes from the low, flat plains of Castile to the breathtaking heights of the Sierra de Guadarrama, whose slopes in winter and early spring are dotted with skiers, from there it winds down the mountain to the fertile Eresma Valley, to La Granja de San Ildefonso, where a splendid royal residence of the Bourbon dynasty is located.

La Granja’s gardens

A remarkable commentary of eighteenth-century Spanish monarchs, La Granja with its formal gardens, arranged with geometrical precision, its statues depicting mythological figures, its serene, ordered beauty, is often called the “Little Versailles” for it bears a marked similarity to the famous gardens created by Lenótre for Louis XIV of France.

Teodoro Ardemano began work on the palace for King Philip V in 1719 and it took four years to complete. King Henry IV had previously dedicated a house and hermitage to St. Ildefonso on the same site in 1450.

A “Passion of Christ” tapestry from La Granja’s collection of  Flemish tapestries

The Palace itself is rectangular in shape and has four wings. The main façade of the building is 508 feet long and has a portico surmounted by caryatids representing the Seasons of the year. The Colegiata, which dates back to the first half of the eighteenth century extends from the opposite façade and is decorated with frescoes by Maella and Bayeu. The high altar is by Solimena the Neapolitan from designs by Ardemano. To the left is the Pantheon with the tombs of Philip V and Isabel Farnese by Pitué and Dumandré.

Of special interest in the interior of the palace are the massive and richly woven Flemish tapestries. Among the finest that can be seen anywhere in the world, these sixteenth-century masterpieces were accumulated by the successive Spanish monarchs who inhabited the palace and are impressively displayed in the spacious rooms on the first and second floors.

The lovely gardens, completed during the reign of Charles III, were designed by R. Carlier and E. Boutelou, and their twenty-six monumental lead fountains are the work of, first, Thierri and Fremin, and, later, Dumandré and Pitué.


Images (from Wikimedia Commons)
Featured image (Montage: Versaille/Michel G, CC BY3.0, frame supplied. La Granja/Miguel Angel Garcia, CC BY2.0, cropped, frame supplied.)
La Granja’s gardens/Marmontel, CC BY2.0
“Passion of Christ” tapestry photographed by PMRMaeyaert, CC BY-SA4.0