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The Royal Palaces of Spain
There are six royal palaces in Madrid and surrounding areas that can be visited by tourists. These palaces are a treasure trove of art, porcelain, carpets, tapestries, and history. Many of the kings were art collectors and they hired the best artists of their time to decorate their palaces. Many of these palaces have lavish gardens that are outstanding.
I. Palacio Real de Madrid
The Palacio Real in Madrid is also called the Palacio de Oriente. This palace is in the center of Madrid and is used by the king for ceremonial purposes. The king does not live here, but lives in the Palacio de la Zarzuela in the outskirts of the city.
The Alcazar stood where the present palace is today. This castle was built at the end of the 9th century by the Moorish king of Cordoba, Mohammed I. The fortress was rebuilt in the 14th century and in the 16th century Charles V and Philip II rebuilt it as a palace. Unfortunately there was a fire on Christmas Eve in 1734 that destroyed the palace.
The present palace was ordered built by King Philip V when the old palace burned down. It is built of stone and brick, without any wood, to prevent future fires. Philip V called the famous Italian architect Filippo Juvarra to design and build the palace. Juvarra designed the palace, but died in 1736. The new palace was built from 1738 to 1755 and the architect was Juan Bautista Sachetti, Juvarra‘s disciple from Turin. The new palace was then occupied by Carlos III in 1764. The style is classical late Baroque and was inspired by the Roman artist Bernini.
This palace is the largest in Europe, occupying an area of 135,000 square meters. There is a very large Plaza de Palacio in front of the palace. This plaza is also called the Plaza de Armas. There is a very impressive double staircase at the entrance, with symmetrical flights of stairs. One of them was supposed to be for the king, and the other for the queen. The vault over the staircase is a painting by Giaquinto.
One will see many large tapestries, porcelain, gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, clocks, and art objects. There is a lot of period furniture, unlike in other European palaces, which are bare of furniture. There are also great pieces of art from Goya, Velazquez, Mengs, and Caravaggio found in the Painting Gallery.
The most exotic room is the Porcelain Room with its large collection of porcelain produced by the Royal Factory of El Buen Retiro. Charles III was the king who had this room created. He had been the King of Naples before inheriting the Spanish throne and he wanted to copy a room in the palace in Naples that was adorned with beautiful porcelain from the Capodimonte Porcelain Factory near Naples. So he established the Royal Factory of the Buen Retiro to produce the porcelain for this room.
There is a beautiful Throne Room which comes from the reign of Charles III, which is the most impressive room. Tiepolo painted the ceiling fresco in 1766 and represents the Allegory of the Spanish Monarchy, with personifications of the different Spanish possessions around the world. Naples manufactured the carved gilt furniture and the embroidery of the velvet wall hangings. The Royal Factory of La Granja made the enormous mirrors. The rock crystal chandeliers were bought in Venice in 1780. In 1650 Velazquez brought from Rome the bronze lions beside the throne dais.
There is also a Royal Chapel, that is not too big but is furnished lavishly. It is famous for its organ, on which several designers worked, including Ventura Rodriguez, Leonardo Fernandez Davila, and Jorge Bosch. Another impressive room is the Banquet Hall, which can seat at least 100 persons.
There is a Royal Armory, which contains one of the most important collections of its type in the world. It displays arms and armor that belonged to the kings of Spain, from the 13th century on. The kings collected arms from other countries and there are many arms that came from Japan.
The name of the palace gardens is the Campo del Moro (“The Moor’s Field”), and these originated during the time of Philip II. In 1890 they were remodeled to their present look. There is a large square to the east of the palace, and this is known as the Plaza de Oriente, and this has recently been remodeled. It has several statues of the kings of Spain carved during the reign of Ferdinand VI.
The Palacio Real is really the most sumptuous and impressive palace in Spain. Seeing it, one sees the riches and glory of Spain’s history. It is really a very interesting history lesson.
The Stradivarius Collection in the Palacio Real
Antonio Stradivari was the most important luthier in history, and he was born in Cremona, Italy, in 1644. The sounds of his violins and other string instruments had the most beautiful sounds ever created. It is known that those he made between 1683 and 1715 had the best quality. In total he created about 1100 instruments, but today only about 500 or 600 have been conserved. What few people know is that the Palacio Real has the best collection in the world of Stradivarius in its museum of musical instruments.
From sales, it is known that a Stradivarius violin has a value between 1 million and 4 million euros. The value of a Stradivarius is greater if it has a definite name because of its history and previous owner. At the end of the 18th century, there were more than 50 Stradivarius in Madrid.
King Carlos II ordered five instruments from Stradivari between 1696 and 1709. However he died and his successor Felipe V declined to buy them. Another king, Carlos IV bought them in 1775 in Rome. This king played the violin, which he learned in his youth in Italy. One viola was lost from the palace when Napoleon's troops robbed it. The remaining four instruments are a viola, a violoncello, and two violins. These have the name of the Spanish Quartet and are exhibited in the Stradivarius Room. When the four instruments are played at the same time, it sounds like there are a dozen instruments playing. Few tourists are aware of them when they tour the palace, or know how important they are. It is estimated that the Spanish Quartet has a value of 100 million euros!
II. Royal Palace of El Pardo
Calle de Manuel Alonso s/n,
28048 El Pardo (Madrid)
Tel: 913-761-500 (Call Monday to Friday between 10:30 and 17:00H.)
Call a few days before the trip to see if the palace will be open on the day you want to go. If there is a visiting head of state, the palace will be closed to visitors.
Go to the Moncloa Intercambiador (metro and bus terminal). Look for Darseña 14. When the Bus 601 arrives, get on the bus and pay the bus driver. The ride costs less than 2 euros.
The Royal Palace of El Pardo is located about 14 km away from Madrid and is easy to get to because there is frequent bus service to the palace. The trip from Madrid takes only about 15 minutes.
The Palace is set in a wooded area that is known as El Monte de El Pardo. This area has oak trees and is a hunting reserve. The medieval kings enjoyed hunting here. Henry III built a small hunting lodge here in 1405. In 1543 Carlos I had a big palace created by the architect Luis de Vega. The new building had a rectangular ground plan and was made of stone and brick, with four corner towers. Felipe II had the roofs tiled with slate and had works of art installed in the palace. In 1604 a fire destroyed half of the building. Felipe IV and Felipe V added additions to the Pardo.
Carlos III was the king who did the most for the palace. He had six children and he wanted palace additions to house all of his family after the death of his wife Maria Amalia of Saxony. He chose Francisco Sabatini for this work, which was finished in 1776. Sabatini replicated the building and turned it into an 18th century palace. The galleries in the courtyards were glassed-in. Sabatini also designed the interiors. Tapestries were needed to insulate the insides of the building, since the Royal Family lived here also during winter, so the Royal Santa Barbara Tapestry Factory was ordered to produce these tapestries. This palace is the one with the most tapestries and the tapestries are in very good condition and the majority are not faded. One can see that the tapestries were custom made for the rooms, because in many cases they occupy whole walls of the rooms. Many of the tapestries were made using the cartoons of Francisco Goya, the court painter.
Kings after Carlos III all enjoyed this palace and occupied it, making several alterations. In 1940 the dictator Francisco Franco lived in this palace until his death in 1975. Since 1982 the palace is the Residence for Foreign Heads of State, and when a head of state is in the palace, the palace is closed to the public.
There are extensive gardens around the palace, with small fountains, but the best manicured are those directly in front of the main facade and across the side door that gives entry to the palace to visitors. This last garden has a fountain with a figure surrounded by ducks, which is quite unusual.
One can visit the palace, but only with the professional tour guide of the palace. There is always a guard who brings up the rear of the group to close the lights and to safeguard the palace. There are two large courtyards that are completely covered with glass and awnings to control the amount of sunlight that is needed. One of these is used for banquets for visiting heads of state. Usually the heads of state eat only breakfast at the palace, so the breakfast is provided by the kitchens of the Ritz Hotel.
The palace has many beautiful and one of a kind French chandeliers. All the ceilings are decorated with paintings and frescoes, as well as big gold medallions. There are large gold framed mirrors on the walls, and French style furniture, all in very good condition, with recent refurbishing of the materials. The curtains are beautiful and match the furniture fabrics. There is a large clock collection that Carlos III owned, all of the clocks being in running condition. Many times the carpet designs match the ceiling designs. The amount of art work in the palace is very impressive, including paintings and sculptures. There is a small chapel in the palace where a few people can pray and hear Mass. There is a big royal chapel in a separate building that is also beautiful and many times this chapel is used for concerts and cultural events. All in all, the palace is one of the most beautiful of the royal palaces in Spain.
One can see the apartments where heads of state stay, which has some modern sofas. It is worthy of being the Residence for Foreign Heads of State, and visiting heads of state will not find fault with anything in the palace.
Across the palace there is a small square that has a small tearoom called La Marquesita, which is a very cute tearoom that has many wonderful pastries. There are many restaurants near the palace where one can eat very well also.
III. El Escorial
El Escorial was built by King Philip II between 1563 and 1584. The architects were Juan Bautista of Toledo and his assistant Juan de Herrera. Philip II wanted to have a mausoleum for his father Charles V. The building was also meant to remember the victory of the Battle of San Quentin in Picardy against the French king Henry II. The battle occurred on Aug. 10, 1557, the feast day of San Lorenzo. That is why the name of the monastery/palace complex contains the name of San Lorenzo. Philip II also wanted to have a necropolis to put the remains of his parents, his own remains, and the remains of his descendants. Today the pantheon contains the remains of the Spanish kings over the last five centuries. This pantheon is located under the floor of the Basilica. The monastery now has Augustinian monks.
Philip II took great interest in building the monastery/palace. He was the person who chose the site. The construction took 21 years and the King closely oversaw the progress of the project. He insisted that the best materials be used and he brought the best European artists to decorate the palace.
The building used gray granite and looks very austere, more of a fortress than a palace. The ornamentation is minimal. The place is huge, in the shape of a quadrangle, 224 m by 153 m. Each corner has a square tower, topped by a spire. In the 18th century King Charles III had one wing remodeled into the Palace of the Bourbons, which was decorated with tapestries and had lush furniture of that period.
The palace has a Gallery of Paintings, which is very good and you can see paintings by very famous artists, such as Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Luca Girodano, Ribera, Zurbaran, El Greco, and Van der Weyden (who painted the very moving painting of the Calvary). There are Chapter Rooms decorated with paintings by Titian, Bosch, El Greco, Ribera and Velazquez. The Royal Pantheon has the burial vaults of all the Kings of Spain since Charles V. What is interesting is the Polygonal Mausoleum in the 6th chamber, because it looks like the top of a wedding cake.
The Basilica is very impressive. The main altar is very high and is done in marble and jasper, with paintings by Tibaldi and Zuccaro. There are a total of 45 altars. One of them has a wonderful sculpture of Christ on the Cross by Benvenuto Cellini. There is an impressive vault fresco painted by Luca Giordano called the Exodus of the Israelites. There are also praying figures of Charles V and Philip II with their families, done by Leoni.
There is a Library which has 45,000 books from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as 5000 manuscripts in Arabic, Latin, and Spanish. There are many windows, so this salon is full of light. The vaulted ceiling has beautiful frescoes done by Pellegrino Tibaldi in the mannerist style, similar to Michelangelo’s style. The Library is the most beautiful part of the palace. There is also a very long gallery called the Gallery of Battles, which has very long paintings of battles. The vaulted ceiling frescoes are done in the Roman style.
The base of the walls (zocalo) is decorated with beautiful ceramic tiles to a height of about 3.5 feet. The design is of acanthus leaves done in blue and white. It turns out that these are tiles from Talavera de la Reina in Toledo. The acanthus leaves were used for decoration since Roman times.
Winter (October to March) : 10-17H. Closed Monday.
Summer (April to September) : 10-18H. Closed Monday.
B. By Train
1. One can take the Cercanias train to El Escorial using the C8A line. El Escorial is 49 km away from Madrid and costs 2€. It takes about an hour to get there.
2. Go to: http://www.renfe.es/. Check the Cercanias box and ask for Madrid in the Seleccione un Nucleo box.
3. For the next page:
Origen - Chamartin or Atocha.
Destino - El Escorial.
Fecha - Put the date for the trip.
For Seleccione tipo dia:
Laborable (Martes a Jueves) - This means workdays between Tuesday and Thursday.
Lunes y Despues de Festivo - Monday and after holiday.
Viernes - Friday.
Sabados - Saturdays.
Domingos y Festivos - Sundays and holidays.
Check the Horarios Box to see the schedules.
The train leaves one at the bottom of the hill and one needs to take the bus to the top of the hill and walk to the El Escorial Palace.
C. By Bus
The company Herranz Buses leave from the bus station at the Intercambiador de Moncloa. Take the No. 661 or 664 bus. It costs 3€.
El Escorial has many good restaurants and it is just a matter of walking in the town and looking for one.
Here is the list of restaurants:
http://www.sanlorenzoturismo.org/gast... The more forks in the classification, the better the restaurant.
IV. The Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Transportation to Aranjuez:
1. Aranjuez is 47 km away from Madrid.
2. The Palacio Real de Aranjuez hours:
October to March: 10:00 to 17:15H (Mondays closed)
April to September: 10:00 to 18:15H (Mondays closed)
The website is: http://www.patrimonionacional.es/aran...
3. The Atocha to Aranjuez Cercanias C3 train takes 44 min. The trains run about every 15 minutes from 05:34H to midnight. The round trip ticket costs 10€.
The website is:
4. The Renfe train station in Aranjuez is 0.8 km away from the Palacio Real de Aranjuez and takes 10 minutes to get there.
5. You can get a map from Google Maps using:
A. Avenida Palacio S/N, 28300 Aranjuez, Spain (Palacio Real De Aranjuez)
B. Calle de la Estación, 28300, Aranjuez
The royal palace of Aranjuez was first constructed in a small scale during the time of Felipe II. He would spend the spring in this little town because the temperature was very mild and it was a beautiful place. During the reign of Felipe V, the present palace was finished. The palace is beside the Tajo River and the river has been used to supply the many beautiful fountains in the marvelous gardens surrounding the palace. The palace started with the Renaissance style, but many transformations during the years now give it a neoclassic look. The palace is enormous, with various wings and huge plazas within the palace. One can easily get lost here.
The main staircase is very impressive, using a double staircase. This uses the late baroque style of northern Italy. There are very ornate wrought iron guard rails along the staircases. There is a huge crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, which is painted with allegorical murals.
The many salons have ceilings about 20 feet high, and all of the ceilings have the allegorical paintings and murals. The borders between the walls of the salons and the ceilings have very elaborate stucco designs with gold leaf. Every salon has a different look, with beautiful wallpaper and drapes (these are new). The furniture used had low chairs, apparently to make it easy for the ladies to sit and stand up when they had their elaborate skirts on. The walls are lined with paintings from all the European schools. The fireplaces are made of beautiful marble. Every room has one or two beautiful Venetian crystal chandeliers. The carpets are original and have very elaborate designs. There are many large mirrors lining the walls, and the mirrors were of the French design with frames using gold leaf.
The most beautiful room is the Arabic Room. The room is large, using an octagonal shape. The walls are lined with ceramic tile in geometric forms. The ceiling is the most impressive, because it has the beehive form, in gold. The Arabian style room has a lot of color, and the effect is really stunning. There are red sofas along the wall and in the middle of the room is a beautiful octagonal table inlaid with semiprecious stones and precious woods and gold. The entrances to this room have arches with simulated stalactites.
There is also a stunning Porcelain Room, where the walls and ceiling of the room are decorated with ceramics in the Chinese style, depicting Chinese people, birds, flowers, and plants. The floor of the room has an intricate design of white, black, green and red marble. There are chairs lining the walls which also have Chinese motifs. The result is a very beautiful and colorful room. There are also rooms where the uniforms of the kings and princes are displayed. They also have dresses used by the queens, as well as long robes used in state occasions.
The formal gardens are something to see. These are very extensive and it is a pleasure to promenade in these gardens. There are many fountains with beautiful marble statues. One can see the river running along the edges of the gardens, giving a very soothing sound.
In conclusion, this palace is one of the most beautiful and impressive in Spain. It comes with the original furniture, so one has a complete idea of how the kings and queens lived. The front of the palace is set off with a huge plaza and there are no buildings near it, so it really stands out with its gardens.
V. Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
This royal palace is located in Segovia, about an hour’s drive from Madrid. The palace was built by Felipe V, the first Bourbon king in Spain who came from France. Felipe V fell in love with the area and ordered the palace to be built as his retirement home. The palace was started in 1720 and finished in 1723. French architects who worked on the palace and gardens of Versailles were used and the style is late baroque. This palace has been used as the summer palace by all the kings down to Alfonso XIII.
On the second floor, there are the rooms of the king and those of the queen. All of them have beautiful crystal chandeliers, and atop the chandeliers are modern spot lights that focus on the beautiful frescoes of the ceilings. There is a lot of light in every single room, so one can appreciate the beautiful floors, the furniture, and the art work. Features of interest include the ceiling frescoes, the paintings, and fine furniture dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Downstairs are the sculpture galleries, that run the length of the building. When Queen Cristina of Sweden (there was a movie of her made by Greta Garbo) passed away in Rome, her heir did not want to keep the sculpture collection that she amassed, so the representative of Felipe V bought the whole collection at a very good price. The sculpture was brought to La Granja, but in the past the original pieces were brought to the Prado in Madrid, and they made plaster copies of the statues for La Granja. The sculptures are impressive and very beautiful.
What makes La Granja impressive are the gardens, probably the most extensive of the royal palaces in Spain. They are the best example of 18th century design. They were designed by the French architect Rene Carlier. The main garden comes down a small hill towards the palace, and it is full of fountains that have a lot of water that flow towards the palace by gravity. The palace overlooks the gardens and from inside the palace one has a good view of the gardens. There are many different gardens and beautiful paths to explore.
The parterres and avenues of the Garden are decorated with white marble statues and 18th-century urns, but the spectacular sculpted fountains are its most celebrated feature; the allegorical figures are made of lead painted to resemble bronze. The fountains of Neptune, Apollo and Andromeda form part of the long perspective known as "The Horse Race"; the Cascade of Amphitrite is situated in front of the Palace; and others include the fountains of the Ocho Calles, the Canastilla, the Baths of Diana and the Fountain of Fame. The fountains are turned on once a week.
Winter (October to March)
Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00H-13:30H, 15:00H to 17:00H
Sunday: 10:00H to 14:00H.
Summer (April to September)
Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00H-18:00H
Fountains: Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays: Four groups of fountains will start at 17:30H.
Transportation from Madrid to Segovia:
To go to La Granja requires careful planning if one wants to use public transportation. Looking at the palace hours, if one uses public transportation, one should go during the summer schedule because the palace does not close for lunch.
Prices and time schedules are as of Dec. 31, 2008.
A. Renfe AVE Train
1. This is the preferred way to go to Segovia because it takes a shorter time than the bus and is more comfortable, since one can stand and go to the bathroom.
2. The train station is the Chamartin Station, towards the north of Madrid.
3. For the day tripper, there is the Alvia 04087 that leaves at 08:00H and arrives at Segovia in half an hour.
Tourist price: 21.20€
Web price: 8:50€
Estrella price: 12.70€
4. For the return trip, there is the Alvia 04140 that leaves at 18:46H and arrives in Madrid at 19:56H.
Tourist price: 21.20€
Web price: 8:50€
Estrella price: 12.70€
5. Read Buying Renfe Tickets Online in Trip Advisor. One can buy tickets 62 days in advance. It is best to buy the tickets early to get the web price.
6. The train station at Segovia is the Segovia-Guiomar Station, which is 4 km from the city center. Take the No. 11 bus (cost about a euro), that drops you at the aqueduct. This is their website:
7. Be sure to get back to the train station in time.
The Sepulvedana Bus Co. goes from the Principe Pio Intercambiador (transportation hub) on Paseo de la Florida to Segovia.
1. This is the website:
2. The website is in Spanish only, but one can navigate it using this example:
3. After entering the website, go to Rutas y Horarios.
Origen: Madrid Florida
Fecha Ida (Date of travel): 26-1-2009 (This is a Monday)
Numero Plazas (Number of tickets) : 2
Hit the Buscar button.
4. There is a bus every half hour starting at 6:30H until 23:00H. The time to reach Segovia is about 1.5 hours and the price is 6.64€ as of this writing.
C. From Segovia to La Granja and Back:
The bus stop is near the Aqueduct and the trip to La Granja takes 15 minutes.
Segovia - La Granja with Sepulvedana, S.A. bus
Daily: 10:30, 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:00, 6:45 and 9:30
Only working days: 7:40, 8:50, 12:30, 2:00, 9;00 pm
Sunday and Holidays: 10:30 PM
La Granja to Segovia
Daily: 11:00, 12:10, 2:00, 3:30, 4:30, 6;00,
Working days: 7:20, 8:00, 8:30, 9:30, 5:50
Sunday and Holidays 10:00 PM
VI. The Royal Palace of Riofrio
The Palace of Riofrio is in Segovia and it is difficult to see it because there is no public transportation to go to its site. One has to have a car to see it. Riofrio was a place for hunting that Felipe V rented in 1724. In 1726 Felipe V died and his widow was Isabel de Farnesio, who was a very ambitious woman. She decided to build the palace at Riofrio and possibly leave it as an inheritance to her younger son Don Luis. The construction started in 1752 and was finished in 1762. The architects were the Italians Andrea Rusca, Bartolomeo Reale, Rabaglio, Carlo Fraschina, Pietro Sermini, and Jose Diaz Gamones. However the interior was never finished because no king or queen lived in it.
The palace is square and each side measures 84 meters. What makes the palace unique is the double staircase going to the top floor, which is unique, because the other royal palaces have only one staircase. The palace is full of important paintings, furniture, chandeliers, curtains, and carpets, but the floors are not finished. There is a series of 150 small paintings that depict the life of Christ, all painted by the same artist, Giovanni del Cinque. In the 1960's the Hunting Museum was created and it has many good dioramas of animals that were hunted, and these dioramas were created by the taxidermist Benedito and the scene maker Emilio Ruiz del Rio. The palace is very cold inside, but is really worth seeing. It is too bad that the palace can be reached only by car and there is no public transportation to see it, so the majority of tourists to Madrid cannot see it.