El Retiro, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

If you plan to visit Madrid in the near future, something fun, relaxing and extremely interesting to put on the agenda is a trip to the Parque del Retiro.  The Parque del Retiro, also known as the Parque del Buen Retiro, is the most popular park in Madrid, and a great place for tourists and locals to mingle and stroll with their families as fortune tellers, street musicians, jugglers and sidewalk painters provide the unique entertainment.

Parque del Retiro is known to locals as the Royal Park, which was indeed the original function of this well-loved recreation area.  It belonged to the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro Palace—a palace constructed by King Philips IV in 1632 as a retreat—or “retiro”—for the Royal family.  At that time, the park was situated well beyond the walls of the city, but Madrid has since enclosed the Parque del Retiro entirely.  It now consists of roughly 320 breathtaking acres of total land area and has been open to the public since 1868.  While parts of the park remain wholly natural and untouched, others are laid out in a French colonial style that was popular during that era.

Although most of the original buildings that dotted the landscape of the Parque del Retiro were destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars, two of them still remain:  the Museo del Ejército and the Casón del Buen Retiro.  The Museo del Ejército is a military museum that houses several interesting pieces associated with Spain’s military history, including a majestic collection of armor and a must-see sword believed to have been used by El Cid or La Tizona.  This museum is also home to the cross worn by Christopher Columbus on his sail to the New World. The second remaining building, Casón del Buen Retiro, is also a museum, housing 19th and 20th century paintings, including several works by Joaquín Sorolla.

Other features of the Parque del Retiro include:

  • Estanque del Retiro.  If you enter from the northern end of the Parque del Retiro you will notice a large artificial lake, the Estanque del Retiro. This area of the park, where you can relax, picnic and even rent row boats for a small fee, features a beautiful equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII.  The statue, which consists of a semicircular colonnade, was erected by the King’s mother in 1922.
  • Palacio de Cristal.  Towards the southern end of the park you will notice a gorgeous glass building.  This is the Palacio de Cristal, built in 1887 by Ricardo Velasquez Bosco after the Crystal Palace in London.  The beautiful building was initially used to house exotic plants brought from the Philippines, but is now used almost exclusively for temporary exhibits.
  • Rosaleda.  The Rosaleda, or rose garden, in the Parque del Retiro, is a treat for the eyes and nose, with beautiful roses of all colors gracing the landscape.  Near this area is perhaps one of the most interesting and unique features of the park, a statue named El Angel Caido.  The statue is dedicated to Satan and is quite possibly the only such statue in Europe.

The expansive areas of grass, trees, lakes and flowers lend a sense of splendor and serenity to the Parque del Retiro, a Madrid attraction whose historical significance is overshadowed only by its beauty.  The park is open daily and is located east of the city center, not from the Prado Museum.  Its main entrance is near the Alcala Gate at the Plaza de la Independence.