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The Royal Palace of Aranjuez (Palacio Real de Aranjuez) is a magnificent Spanish royal palace south of Madrid which is made up of a blend of architectural styles.
It was King Philip II who commissioned the building of Aranjuez Palace in the 16th century, with plans drawn up by Juan Herrera, who was also the architect of El Escorial. However, work would continue through to the reign of Charles III, under whom the Royal Palace of Aranjuez was completed in the 18th century. Indeed, it is the latter work which is most evident today.
History of Royal Palace of Aranjuez
The history of the palace’s royal site began in the 16th century, when the Order of Santiago’s grandmaster Lorenzo I Suarez de Figueroa directed the construction of a grand hunting lodge. This still exists and is an open festival park.
In the following 50 years, Charles I of Spain and then Philip II established a botanical garden and became aware that the fertile meadows of Aranjuez should be capitalised upon.
King Philip began construction of the first palace in an adjacent plot south of the river, and after his death in 1598, works continued as only the royal apartments, chapel, south tower, and part of the western façade had been completed.
A subsequent economic and political crisis and the fall of the royal house of Hapsburg resulted in the project being abandoned.
In 1700, Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain, decided to resume its construction, intending to make the palace a rival to Versailles. The king added a new north tower, completed the west façade which defined the structure which would shape the current palace. It was little used, and was nearly destroyed by fire in 1748.
Ferdinand VI rebuilt the palace in the prevailing late baroque style, which constituted of an imposing exterior and a sumptuously furnished interior.
The building today is mainly due to Charles III as a result of his building reform work in Madrid and the modernisation of the Spanish state. He designed the two west wings, which frame the central courtyard, and the overall interior and exterior decoration was hugely enriched in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The palace has remained largely unchanged since then, and was enjoyed by Charles IV and briefly by Alfonso XII and his wife.
Royal Palace of Aranjuez Today
Today, the palace is open for visitors to enjoy. The spaces are generally in very good condition, and highlights include a collection of wedding dresses worn by the Royal family and the famous porcelain room.
You can take a self-guided tour which takes an hour or two. The gardens are also open to be enjoyed free of charge.
Getting to Royal Palace of Aranjuez
The palace is a short 45 minute train ride from Madrid, stopping at Puerta de Atocha, after which, there is a 20 minute walk to the palace. by car, it takes around 50 minutes via the A-4.
A Royal Palace and Gardens in a Royal City – Aranjuez, Spain
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez will be our first stop on a tour of this region of Spain. We depart from Madrid’s bustling Atocha Train Station and reach Aranjuez 45 minutes later. Exiting the small station we head into town…a pleasant fifteen minute walk along shady tree lined streets. It is very quiet with just the occasional barking dog.
The open Plaza de las Parejas is to our right. Beyond the Plaza I spot what looks to be a hotel in a beautiful old building with balcony views of the Palace. Since this is just a day trip from Madrid, I jot down the hotel’s name, Palacio de Aranjuez. Already I know a return trip will be in the near future…so much to see.
Up ahead to our left we see it – the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. Today we are focusing on the Royal Palace and the gardens that immediately surround it…the King’s Garden, The Palace Parterre, and the Island Garden.
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
The town of Aranjuez, an ancient Moorish settlement on the banks of the river Tagus, owes its growth to the fact that successive Spanish monarchs made it a place of retreat for the Royal Family.
Opening times October to March: Weekdays, weekends and holidays 10:00 to 18:00. April to September: Weekdays, weekends and holidays 10:00 to 20:00. Closed Monday
Tickets Basic (9,00€), Reduced (4,00€), Free entry for the under 5s.
The Royal Palaceoriginated in the house of recreation built in 1387 on the orders of the Grand Master of the Military Order of Santiago. Once all the properties of the military orders passed to the Crown, the Catholic Monarchs were inspired by the privileged location of the house, between the Tagus and Jarama rivers, to implement building and refurbishment works. Its transformation into a place of recreation commenced in 1540 on the initiative of Charles I. Philip II decided to build a new palace and to enlarge the gardens. He commissioned the design to Juan Bautista de Toledo in 1564, who was succeeded on his death (1568) by Juan de Herrera, whose plans were used to commence work on the Royal Palace in 1574, unfinished on the death of Philip II.
Continuation of the works
In 1715 Philip V ordered work on the Royal Palace to be continued. The layout designed by Juan de Herrera was respected and this work ended in 1739. In this stage the west facade and the main body of the palace were completed. The main staircase, the work of Santiago Bonavía, was begun in 1744. In 1748, some parts of the Royal Palace, destroyed by fire, had to be rebuilt and refurbished. The Royal Palace assumed its final shape in the time of Charles III, with an enlargement by Francisco Sabatini consisting of side wings that enclosed the main square of the building. These works, implemented between 1772 and 1778, were completed with the construction of a chapel at the end of one of the wings. A theatre was planned, but never completed, for the other wing.
The Royal Palace, built of white Colmenar stone alternating with brick, consists of a central corps de logis around a courtyard that maintained its Herrerian structure despite successive reforms, and two large wings flanking the courtyard on either side. The main facade has three stories, crowned by a pediment with a balustrade bearing the coat of arms of Ferdinand VI. The two main floors are decorated with classical pilasters between which are windows fronted by balconies and topped by alternating triangular and curved pediments. The south and north facades consist of sections each crowned by a dome. The south facade is joined by a gallery to the Casas de Oficios built by Juan de Herrera in 1584 and arranged around two courtyards, this building provided lodgings for the Court entourage.
Inside the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace houses important collections of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts distributed in all its rooms. The vestibule contains the main staircase with a Rococo balustrade. The Queen's Oratory, a neo-Classical work by the Ferroni brothers, is noteworthy for decorations executed al fresco by Francisco Bayeu (1790). Also noteworthy is the Inmaculada altarpiece by Salvador Maella, who was also responsible for the decorative ceilings and lower wall paintings in the Queen’s Study. One of the most intriguing rooms is the Porcelain Room (1759-1765), whose walls are completely covered with porcelain manufactured in the Buen Retiro Royal Factory. The Hall of Mirrors was decorated, in a transitional Rococo-Romantic style, between 1790 and 1795 under the guidance of Juan de Villanueva. The King’s Bedchamber contains the Allegories of Justice, Peace and Abundance by Bartholomew Rusca (1737), and Antonio Rafael Mengs’ Crucificado. The Chapel (1799) has paintings by Luca Giordano, Mengs and Maella and by Bayeu, who also did the al fresco decoration of the ceiling.
The Palace is surrounded by extensive gardens, divided into several sections that were renovated and enlarged by successive monarchs. The oldest garden is the Island (or Queen’s) Garden, which was laid out on the orders of Queen Isabella I and remodelled in the time of Philip II. Their current layout, remarkable for the many fountains with mythological sculptures, is due to reforms by Sebastián de Herrera Barnuevo (1660-1669). The Statue Garden was planted on the orders of Philip II and was remodelled during the reign of Philip IV. The French-style Parterre Garden, with its ponds and sculptures, was laid out between 1718 and 1746. The Prince’s Garden, commissioned by the future Charles IV, is the largest and most important of the gardens. It was laid out between 1772 and 1804 with a design aimed at catering for two popular forms of entertainment in the 18th century: hunting and boating. With six different sections containing splendid trees, it has open and secluded areas and walkways adorned with temples, statues and fountains.
The garden that runs down to the river Tagus, called the Garden of the Halls, is the location of the pier, built during the reign of Ferdinand VI to facilitate boating on the river.
Built nearby in 1966 was the House of Marines to replace the house built by Ferdinand VI as home to the Royal Sailboat Museum, containing the boats that made up what was called the Tagus Fleet in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Casita del Labrador was builtin the Prince’s Garden in the neo-Classical style by Isidro González Velázquez, acting on the orders of Charles IV in 1803 it was designed as a place of rest exclusively for use by members of the Royal Family. Marble sculptures and busts decorating the exterior walls belonged to the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden. The house inside is decorated with numerous sculptures, paintings, carpets and porcelain and metalwork items.</p>
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Royal Palace of Aranjuez. | ShutterStock
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez (Palacio Real de Aranjuez) is located in the town of Aranjuez, on the banks of the River Tagus in the Community of Madrid. It is considered the country residence of the Spanish royal family. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is surrounded by more than 100 hectares of gardens. Philip II turned the place into an Italian-inspired villa that would end up being reformed by the later monarchs and finally converted into a classical-style palace.
The Official Halls are of great beauty. Among them, it is worth mentioning the Queen’s Dressing Room (Tocador de la Reina), the Dance Hall (Salón de baile) or the Formal Dining Room (Comedor de gala). As for the exteriors, the King’s Garden (Jardín del Rey), inspired by the Italian Renaissance gardens, or the Prince’s Garden (Jardín del Príncipe) deserve special attention. Adjacent to the Prince’s Garden is the small palace of the Royal House of El Labrador, where Charles IV, as Prince of Asturias, used the place as his particular place of enjoyment.
Gardens of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. | ShutterStock
Near the pier, it is worth mentioning the existence of the Falúas Museum. It is a monographic exhibition of the Spanish royal collections. In it you can see the ships that the kings of Spain used to sail the Tagus, standing out among them, the barge of Charles IV.
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez – history
Construction of the palace started back in the 16th century, during the reign of Felipe II. He put architect Juan Bautista de Toledo in charge of the project, although later, architect Juan de Herrera also got involved.
Problems began in the 17th century when work on the palace ground to a halt. Work only began again during the reign of Felipe V, at the beginning of the 18th century. However, a fire destroyed the building not long after. Responsibility for its reconstruction then fell to King Fernando VI, who assigned the task to architect Santiago Bonavía.
Later, during the reign of Carlos III, renowned architect Francisco Sabatini began work to extend the palace. Using the Versailles style, he created two luxurious west wings, designed to portray Spain’s majesty and political dominance.
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Aranjuez, ancient (Latin) Ara Jovis, town, Madrid provincia (province) and comunidad autónoma (autonomous community), central Spain, on the southern bank of the Tagus River near its confluence with the Jarama. The town, which has existed since Roman times, was the headquarters of the Knights of Santiago (1387–1409) and became the seat of a royal summer residence and hunting lodge in the 17th century. It was rebuilt in about 1750 by Ferdinand VI. The royal palace (completed in 1778 after being damaged several times by fire) has a large collection of treasures, and the Casita del Labrador, built by Charles IV, who abdicated at Aranjuez in 1808, recalls the Trianons (châteaux) at Versailles, France. Aranjuez’s cultural landscape (its royal architecture but also, more broadly, its natural and man-made environment) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2001. Aranjuez is on the main railway from Madrid (29 miles [47 km] north) and is a rich agricultural district. Corn has become the dominant crop cultivated for export, replacing asparagus and strawberries. Industries include the manufacture of chemicals, metal products, and textiles, and the preservation of fruits. Horses are bred in the surrounding region. Pop. (2007 est.) mun., 49,420.
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Felipe II, taking over an old project of his father, the Emperor Charles, ordered in 1561 the replacement of the royal hunting lodge of Aranjuez by a new building that preceded the current Royal Palace of Aranjuez. Juan Bautista de Toledo was the architect to whom the king ordered the plans, beginning the construction of the chapel, which was completed by Juan de Herrera. A few years later, work on the Palace began under the direction of Juan de Minjares. When Felipe II died in 1598, the riverine construction finished the so-called south tower, occupied by the chapel, and a large part of the facades of midday and west.
Until the reign of Philip V, the works of the new Royal Palace of Aranjuez remained practically abandoned. The Bourbon king, following the primitive plans of Herrera instructed the rigger of the Royal Sites, Pedro Caro Idrogo, to continue the works, which were restarted in 1715. The north tower, identical to the one built by Minjares, is erected and the west façade is completed, and the entire structure that forms the current body of the Palace is also built.
Aranjuez Cultural Landscape, Spain
For centuries, the kings and queens of Spain spent their spring months at the Palace of Aranjuez. They came for the stunning gardens that surrounded the grounds. In turn, the attention shown to the site's development helped to foster a revolution of thought. The site became an incubator for the evolution of concepts: humanism and political centralisation the development of 18th century French-style Baroque gardens and urban lifestyle, which developed alongside the sciences during the Age of Enlightenment.
The Spanish royalty saw the land around Aranjuez as worthy of protection. Even as they developed their palace, they tried to avoid any unnecessary destruction. Instead, they conserved and enriched the environment, adding to its original diversity. Trees were imported from America and Asia until they became the most important European collection from those continents. Groves and forests were turned into gardens and orchards that produced unusual flowers, fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants.
The Tajo River cuts through the Aranjuez landscape, creating different garden areas with distinct features. In La Isla Garden, you can find fountains and waterfalls and sculptures of mythological creatures in the cool orchard where Queen Isabel II would go for walks. El Parterre Garden has marble vases and colorful flowers sprinkled amongst hedges and criss-crossing paths. The largest area, El Príncipe Garden, is styled like an 18th century English garden with large areas for hunting and isolated pavilions for quiet and secluded events.
Between May and October, you can make the journey even more memorable by riding the 19th century steam-driven Strawberry Train that runs from Madrid to Aranjuez.
Although the history of Aranjuez begins in the Middle Ages, there have been settlements and civilisations in the area since prehistory. Legend says that Hannibal won a battle over the Romans near the confluence of the rivers Tajo and Jarama.
At the end of the 15th century, Aranjuez was designated a Royal Site by the Catholic Kings who frequently stayed here to relax, although it was the kings of the House of Austria who began the construction of palaces and gardens. During the reign of Philip II, royal chambers were built but destroyed by a fire in 1665. At this time, the first botanical garden was also inaugurated. The House of Bourbon showed a predilection for this magical destination as well.
In the 17th century, in order to show his gratitude to the people of Aranjuez for their support during the War of Succession, Philip V converted the town into a royal centre and built parks, monuments, gardens, and churches—following the latest artistic trends of the moment. The town reached its peak as the centre of the itinerant court during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV. In the second half of the 18th century, the Royal Palace was enlarged, the Prince's Garden completed, and the Labrador's House was built.
How to Get There
If arriving by plane from the Madrid Barajas Airport, the best way to Aranjuez is by train. Trains (approximately 1.5 hours) depart from T4 (Terminal 4). There are free buses connecting all terminals in Barajas Airport. (A one-way ticket from Barajas Airport to Aranjuez costs €4.05 from RENFE vending machines at the Airport). Change platforms and trains at Chamartín Station or at Atocha Station. Please check timetables.
If you arrive in Madrid by AVE or ALVIA trains (Chamartín or Atocha stations), take the suburban line from Madrid to Aranjuez for free in the ticket machines using the code “Combinado de Cercanías” printed in your AVE and ALVIA ticket. More information.
Taxis from airport or train stations in Madrid to Aranjuez costs approximately 70 to 100 euros. When in the Aranjuez station, the best way to get to the hotel is by taxi (6-10 euros) or taking public buses L1, L2,L3 or L4.
By car from Barajas Airport of any Madrid Railway station to come to Aranjuez (about one hour), take the A4-E5 Highway and exit 37 Aranjuez North. From there, it is a 10-kilometer drive to the Royal Area of Aranjuez.
When to Visit
Click here for more information on the re-opening of Aranjuez gardens from 12 May 2020.
Aranjuez is a year-round destination. It is a site full of vegetation, which creates a micro climate making it cool—even in the summer.
If you want to enjoy the site with all of your senses, the fall and spring are recommended. In the autumn, you can appreciate the changing leaves. In spring, you take in the blossoms and the smell of fresh flowers.
Monuments are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (October to March), and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (April to September). Monuments are closed on Mondays.
How to Visit
It is best to spend one night in Aranjuez to fully understand this UNESCO Cultural Landscape. With two days, devote one to the Royal Palace and Island Garden—ending the day with a visit to the city centre. Spend the second day at the Prince Garden, the Casa del Labrador, and a have a tour of the historic groves and orchards around the Tagus River.
A guided tour is always a good idea to visit the important sites. Cyclists can use the Ciclamadrid Trails—a good option if you are looking for a sustainable experience.
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1 This section includes the royal palaces of the Medieval kingdoms Category