Upon returning to the crowded city of Madrid one could not help wondering if it is possible that one had just visited an old magic kingdom uncorrupted by technology and frenetic urban life and, moreover, is only an hour away
Situated just 50 km outside the capital city, Aranjuez is an attractive option for those seeking a Spanish-town experience, what with its gorgeous gardens, tiny houses, the Royal Palace, and convenient location. If you ever get bored with your daily routine or the stressful atmosphere of the crowded metropolis begins to get you down, you can always beat it to tranquil Aranjuez.
But what makes Aranjuez so special, apart from being a haven for the bored and the stressed out? For starters let’s tick off some basic historical facts about the town which UNESCO has designated as a World Heritage site. Since the 18th century, the Spanish monarchs’ efforts have paid off, so much so that to this day it remains a peerless well-preserved town richly endowed with fine architecture, royal art collections and a variety of other art forms not least of which are gardens and hauntingly lifelike marble statues with or without their respective fountains.
Talking about Aranjuez, the first that comes to mind is the Royal Palace. Its origins go back to 1560, during the time of King Philip II, of the House of Habsburg, which promptly became part of the Royal Estates of the Crown of Spain. However, the current structure of the palace is the result of the modifications commissioned by Charles III (reign: 1759-1788) of the Borbon dynasty.
Within the walls of the palace the visitor comes face to face with the magnificence royal life. Special mention should be made of the priceless collection of Flemish tapestry in the Rococo Throne Room; in the Sala de Porcelana (Porcelain Room), the greatest of the masterpieces from the Royal Porcelain Factory of Buen Retiro which was founded by Charles III of Spain who, as King of Naples and Sicily, founded the Porcellana Capodimonte and, in so doing, gave birth to one of the most famous Italian forms of art; the collection of more than 200 watercolors on rice paper, gifted by a Chinese emperor to Queen Isabella II, in the Chinese Room; the Arab Room, inspired by the Alhambra of Granada . . .
The royal collections, from monarch to monarch down all these centuries, are breathtaking.
And then there are the gardens. It is almost possible to state that the Royal Palace and its gardens constitute Aranjuez. In this southern tail-end of Madrid one is assailed by a quite warm if not downright hot weather and that’s probably the reason why it is virtually deserted in the daytime. On the other hand, paying a visit to the gardens in this weather could be a unique experience because the very desolateness of the place brings into sharp focus the beauty of the gardens and the sculptures from Greek mythology.
We will enumerate the gardens and try to do a sketch of each of them. But mere words could not do them justice, so why don’t you go and see for yourself? It’s absolutely worth the trip and you’ll thank us for suggesting it.
The Parterre Garden
French Esteban Boutelou had planned this garden in the English style and, indeed, he met with perfect success. The garden owes its popularity to its fountains, the most spectacular of which is the Fountain of Hercules and Antaeus.
In a small plaza (plazoleta) of the Parterre you’ll find the Jardin de las Estatuas (Garden of the Statues) which consists of 14 marble busts of Roman emperors, Kings of Spain which of course includes Philip II, and personages of Antiquity. The Garden of the Statues is also known as the Garden of the King in honor of Philip II who personally commissioned the garden during the second half of the 16th century. The King’s Garden was intended to be seen and admired from the balconies of the palace.
At the entrance of the Parterre an explosion of colorful flowers captures the eyes and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve been transported to some place of heavenly dimension.
The Island Garden
Because it is literally surrounded by water this garden which is situated north of the palace is called Island Garden (Jardin de la Isla). On three sides it is surrounded by the River Tagus and by the Ria, a man-made canal, in the south. Before the present palace was constructed, there was one which was used by Isabella the Catholic (Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile and Leon, 1474-1504). In the course of her residence she became very fond of the garden and so it is also known as the Queen’s Garden (Jardin de la Reina).
During the time of Emperor Charles I of Spain (and Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), as well as the time of his son, Philip II, the Jardin de la Isla reached the peak of its splendor.
The most important fountains on the “island” are those of the Boticaria (Apothecary), Hercules and Hydra, Apollo, Reloj (Clock), Niño de la Espina (The Child of the Thorn), Venus, Diana, Bacchus and the fountain of Neptune.
The “island” is one of the most significant milestones in Spanish Renaissance Gardens. The idea of creating an island and transforming it into a garden came from Charles I who picked out Aranjuez for his “country retreat and recreation.”
The Garden of the Prince
The Jardin del Principe (Garden of the Prince) is the palace’s most extensive garden (150 hectares), between the River Tagus and the Queen’s Street (Calle de la Reina) — a wooded retreat planted to a great variety of species: cypreses including Montizuma cypresses , pine and pecan trees, plantains, Virginia persimmon, Judas trees, maples, horse chestnuts . . .
Charles IV, who was then the heir apparent to the throne, ordered the constructioon of this garden in 1772 but it would not be finished until 1804. It has a fortified wharf which was a busy spot in those days when the Spanish kings would sail down the Tagus in luxury falúas (royal barges). Reconstructed falúas are now displayed in the nearby Museo de Falúas Reales (Museum of Royal Barges).
Jardin de Isabel II
The last garden to be constructed in the Aranjuez palace complex is the Garden of Isabella II when the Spanish queen was just a toddler. (She reigned from 1833, at the age of three, to 1870 when she abdicated.) The first trees were planted in 1830 when Isabel was born. The bronze statue of the Reina Niña (Girl-Queen), on a marble pedestal in the center of the garden, surrounded by benches and large stone urns, would come four years later.
And so this is Aranjuez, a magical site and sight within the Madrid province that lodges the charming pecularities of a small Spanish town, albeit a royal one. In every corner of the town, it is possible to encounter quaintly decorated little houses as well as small coffee shops, the favorite gathering places of the local folk. Upon returning to the city (of Madrid) one could not help wondering if indeed one had just visited an old magic kingdom uncorrupted by technology and modern urban life. Could it have been a mirage?
•Featured image: Melis
•Interior of Royal Palace by Manuel M. Vicente – Flickr, CC -BY 2.0
•Hercules, Island Garden, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Assdl
•Hercules and Antaeus, Parterre, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Assdl, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
•Explosion of colors and majestic fountains, Nereida fountain, Parterre, CC-BY-SA 3.o via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Assdl
•Espinario statue, Island Garden, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Assdl
•Royal Wharf, Garden of the Prince, diegoriofrio, http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Diegoriofrio&action=edit&redlink=1, CC-BY-SA 30 via Wikimedia Commons
•”Kioscos Chinescos,” Garden of the Prince, by Ángel Serrano Sánchez de León, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
•Benches and Urns, Jardin de Isabel II, by Ángel Serrano Sánchez de León , CC-BY-SA 30 via Wikimedia Commons
•Royal Palace and Bullring by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Assdl?uselang=de , CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Outgoing go-getting Melis lives in Ankara, Turkey. She loves art in all its forms but loves writing even more. All her life she would capture images, file them away in her mind and then put them in writing. Getting to know different cultures is another of her passions.
Texts, prints, photos and other illustrative materials depicted in GUIDEPOST have been either contributed by the authors of each published work or, to the Magazine’s good-faith knowledge, are in the public domain or otherwise benefit from the allowances of Articles 9(2), 10, 10(bis), and applicable others of the Berne Convention for the Protection of literary and artistic works.