The Retiro is the city’s green lung and the madrileños’ favourite weekend retreat. The aristocracy was first admitted to the former royal grounds in 1767 but it was another century before the gates were opened to the general public. Visitors can enjoy not only the decorative features, w hich include statues and sculptural arrangements, follies, a formal French garden, lakes and ponds, but the numerous amenities which make the Retiro such a prize attraction. Children make a beeline for the puppet theatre (Sunday performances start at 1pm), while adults may prefer the concerts at the bandstand. There are rowing boats for hire on the lake. Sunday, when there is almost a carnival atmosphere, is the best day to enjoy everything from circus acts and buskers to pavement artists and fortune tellers.
The handsome Independence Gate does not rightfully belong here. It was designed by Antonio López Aguado as the entrance to a palace built by Fernando VII for his second wife, Isabel de Bragança. It is, however, the most important of the park’s 18 gates.
The boating lake is one of the oldest features of the park (1631). In the days of Felipe IV it was the setting for mock naval battles. Rowing boats are available for hire from the jetty. Once in a while the lake is drained for cleaning and 6,000 fish have to find a temporary home.
This huge monument was conceived in 1898 as a defiant response to Spain’s humiliating defeat in Cuba, but the plans were not realized until 1922. The statue of the king is by Mariano Benlliure. The most impressive feature is the colonnade, a popular spot with sun-worshippers.
This line of Baroque statues, representing the kings and queens of Spain, other Iberian rulers and Aztec chief, Montezuma, was intended to impress.
The “fisherman’s house”, a typical 18th-century capricho (folly), was a part of the relandscaping of the park in the 1820s. A waterwheel, concealed by the grotto and artificial hill, creates a cascade.
The Retiro’s exhibition centre is the work of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. The tiled frieze nicely offsets the pink and yellow brick banding.
The “artichoke fountain” was designed by Ventura Rodríguez, and made of Sierra de Guadarrama granite and Colmenar stone. The artichoke at the top is supported by four cherubs.
Mirrored in a lake and framed by trees, the Crystal Palace was inspired by its British namesake in 1887.
This beguiling sculpture, the work of Ricardo Bellver, is said to be the only public monument to the “fallen angel” (Lucifer) in the world. It was unveiled in 1878.
The rose garden holds more than 4,000 roses representing 100 different varieties. Designed by the city’s head gardener, Cecilio Rodríguez, in 1915, it is modelled on the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris.
The park’s full title, Parque del Buen Retiro, is a reference to the palace, built for Felipe IV in 1630–32 near the Jerónimos Monastery – retiro means retreat. The former royal residence was vandalized by French troops who occupied it during the War of Independence, and eventually demolished. The only parts to survive – the ballroom and the Salón de Reinos have been earmarked as annexes of the Prado (see Museo del Prado).