Natural environment of the garden
Aranjuez is located in the south of the Community of Madrid in a fertile valley watered by two rivers, Tagus and Jarama rivers that, historically, have made of this territory a particularly fertile area in contrast to La Mancha plain that surrounds us.
The abundance of fauna and flora of this valley attracted the attention of nobles and kings already in the 12th Century. Then, they appreciated the value of Aranjuez as a recreation and hunting area. Later, in the 16th Century, Philip II decided to turn an ancient house-palace, which originally belonged to the Order of Santiago, into a larger Royal Palace that, together with other works of engineering, architecture and some hydraulic works are the origin of what we know today as Aranjuez Cultural Landscape.
The Island Garden was originally designed in the XVI Century around the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. Nowadays, it is formed by small Gardens such as the Garden of the King, the Garden of the Queen, the Garden of the Parterre and the Island Garden itself. This set of gardens takes this name because, the main one is surrounded, on one side, by Tagus River and, on the other side, by an artificial construction called “La Ría”, which makes the garden an authentic island.
King Philip II, Renaissance monarch, had travelled along Europe since very early age and, during his journeys, he had showed a great interest in nature. His broad knowledge, gained by the experience of the long trips he made within his domains, explains the different styles that cohabit in the Island Garden of Aranjuez: the original garden, inspired in the vegetable gardens and orchards of Hispano-Muslim tradition with a productive purpose, including the traditional irrigation system; the Flemish aesthetic, well known by the monarch due to his travels around the Netherlands; and the Italian contribution from the architects Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, who would plan its Renaissance layout (including several fountains with Mythological sculptures) also giving it a scientific destiny according to the humanistic ideas of the time. Therefore, this garden was then also devoted to botanical experimentation and research.
Phillip II imagined a garden composed of a variety of species from different origins: native vegetation and exotic healing species from the New World. All of them were intended for medicinal use, creation of perfumes and as a nursery to supply other Royal Sites. Aranjuez became a place of acclimatization for many American species that needed certain climatic conditions that this place could offer, such as mild temperatures and environmental humidity. There came to be planted over 200,000 trees in that time.
This idea also considered the desire to turn the gardens into small zoos; the intention was to recreate the Universe on a small scale. Wild boars, deers, bulls, horses, calves, cows, but also camels, ostriches, birds and fishes cohabited in Aranjuez by that time.
On the other hand, the Prince’s Garden is the other most important historical garden in Aranjuez.
This is the largest fenced garden in Europe and consists of pre-existing elements, orchards and gardens. In fact, it is also called “the garden of gardens”.
It is a landscape project directed by Charles III’s architect and gardener, Juan de Villanueva and Pablo Boutelou, where all these elements are assembled, creating an area of intervened nature according to the criteria of disordered and spontaneous beauty and botanical experimentation, quite typical of the Enlightenment Period. Not in vain, this garden has more than 190 different tree species, coming to be listed as a Botanical garden. In fact, already in the time of Felipe II, these lands were used as a center of botanical research and experimentation of acclimatization of species from the Indies. So, this botanical tradition was continued in the times of Charles III and Charles IV.
Nowadays, we can find several distinctive gardens such as the Royal Pavilion and the Dock, the Spanish Garden, the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Gardens, clearly influenced by the English style gardening,
The sixth and seventh gardens are the most well know ones in the Prince’s Garden as they hold the Chinescos Pond, full of fish and birds, swans and ducks and the Asian and American Islands, irregular design gardens were we can find the most emblematic and exotic centenary trees.
The Eighth Garden is where La Casa del Labrador was built as a Day Residence for resting after the long and tiring hunting days that the Royalty enjoyed around theses domains during the Reign of Charles IV.
Finally, the ninth garden, also called Miraflores Park, is placed quite far away from the historic center of the city of Aranjuez. Queen Isabella II devoted this area to her Royal Stud and there used to be free horses in this place until 1980, approximately.
Historical background of the garden
This garden is a good example of the Renaissance idea of recreating Paradise in Earth. The control of the rivers through dams and channels to prevent floods; the gardening intervention of nature creating drawings, paths and alignments with natural elements, trees and other plants; exotic animals from the confines of King Phillip II’s empire such as camels, peacocks, ostriches, swans, deers, horses, exotic birds; sculptural compositions of the fountains inspired by classical mythology. … All aiming to recreate Eden.
It was King Charles I in the early 16th century who decided to build a Spring residence in Aranjuez. His son, King Phillip II, even when still a Prince, started the works of urban planning, agriculture and irrigation of the garden itself and its surroundings. Gaspar de Vega and Alonso de Cobarruvias first, and Architects Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera later, were in charge of the works and the geometrical design of the garden and the groves around it. The island Garden was thought to be both a leisure area and agricultural experimentation lab.
Vegetal and marble constructions were included in the design, reminiscing to the idea of Heaven in Earth, ordered under-control nature, a manifest of Royal Power over Nature, indeed.
Later, in the early 18th century, the Garden of the Parterre was integrated in the set of the Island Garden during the reign of king Phillip V as a French garden full of geometrical designs and large flower plantations, although it was subsequently modified by Fernando VI, Carlos IV and Isabel II to get to its current configuration. These modifications consisted mainly on sculptural works of great significance such as the fountain of Ceres or the Fountain of Hercules and Anteo.
Its construction started under the orders of Charles III at the end of XVIII Century by initiative of the still prince, Charles IV. It is for this reason that it takes the name of Prince’s Garden.
It was laid out over some ancient orchards belonging to the Crown since the 16th century, so called the Spring orchards and gardens in the times of Ferdinand VI.
Juan de Villanueva, the Royal Architect was in charge of the works during the Reign of Charles III. He is responsible of the construction of Chinescos Pond, the Russian Mountain and the Casa del Labrador Palace.
There are some preexisting relevant places in this garden, where some royal activities were carried out along time in Aranjuez. There is a Royal Dock, built during the reign of Ferdinand VI, next to the current Museum of Royal Falúas (built in 1963), with a collection of boats of La Escuadra del Tajo ( set of royal boats commanded by the King’s falúa) that were used by the Royalty and its Court to pretend navy fights in Tagus River and for leisure activities in the river, as well.
It is also well known that famous castrati opera singer Farenelli interpreted his musical pieces in the Royal Spring Days of Aranjuez during these boat rides in times of the reign of Phillip V.
But the relevance of this garden as a set of nine gardens and orchards started in the late XVIIIth century when Prince Charles (future King Charles IV) decided to create this new space following the English gardening style incorporating these ancient constructions and gardens into a unique composition of paths, plants, fountains, sculptures and palatine buildings such as La Casa del Labrador.
Description of the Garden
This garden was initially of Islamic inspiration but clearly influenced by the Flemish and Italian Renaissance style and taste. Its design and construction develop three clearly defined scopes: one, related to the layout and design of the garden itself; second, relating to the gardening design, in which the most famous gardeners of the time participated; and third, the artistic scope, represented in the sculptural compositions of its fountains.
This garden was used for the exclusive enjoyment of the King and the court and is a clear reflection of the power, dominion and control that the King had over his empire, an empire where “the sun never set”.
Even though this garden has lightly changed over time, the main structure and design was thought and carried out by Juan Bautista de Toledo in 1561.
Vegetal species coming from France, Flanders, Andalucía and Valencia in Spain were planted in different rectangles of land divided into squares that Juan Bautista de Toledo organized around a central axe. In the crossings there are smaller courts with marble fountains devoted to mythological characters. The whole structure was delimited by a low dam around Tagus river to prevent floods. There is an auxiliary construction also built at the same time, to make it possible to have water in the fountains of this garden: this was the Mar de Ontígola, a pond built in higher altitudes (five kilometers away from the Garden), that provided water to the garden fountains by means of gravity and height pressure. All the original sculptures in the fountains were carved in Italian marble.
There were also botanic constructions in this garden made by the most famous French and Flemish gardeners of the time. They created green tunnels and galleries playing with the contrasts of shade and sun light where the Myths sculptures dwelt.
This garden gathered both the intimacy and water play of a Muslim Garden and the Italian style of mythological reference fountains, geometrically organized paths and parterre gardens.
Later in the XVIII th Century, during the Reign of Charles III, this garden was transformed into French gardening Style by including boje plantations resembling embroideries and installing new white stone benches in the squares.
Most relevant fountains in this garden are Hercules and Hydra Fountain, placed where there used to be a fountain devoted to Diana Goddess; Apollo Fountain, probably carved in the early XVII th century; The Hours Fountain, also called the Ring Fountain, which is supposed to be the oldest one due to its Arabic influence design; The Child of the Thorn Fountain, from mid XVII th century; Venus Fountain, one of the oldest ones, coming from Florence in 1571; and Baccus Fountain, an early 16th century composition that changed over time, and finally the Boticaria Fountain, that welcomes the visitor when stepping into the Island Garden after crossing the garden’s bridge.
This garden was thought and developed in 1772 during the Reign of Charles III due to the initiative of his son, later King Charles IV. It has 145 Ha and is well known to be the biggest fenced garden in Europe holding more than 190 tree species. In fact, this garden is considered to be a Botanic Garden.
Its English design integrated preexisting elements set irregularly in contrast with the French style of Parterre and Island Gardens, more organized and systematic.
Juan de Villanueva was the architect in charge and Pablo Boutelou was the chief gardener. They were responsible of creating an intervention in nature with a result of spontaneous and disordered beauty, another example of how Aranjuez was conceived as a place for leisure and pleasure for the senses.
Both planned this singular garden, quite influenced by the microclimate of Aranjuez, the morphology of this land and the confluence of two rivers in this territory, Tagus and Jarama rivers. This last condition enabled a peculiar way of watering this garden consisting in flooding the meadows by a well-integrated- in the landscape channel system.
Through the main entrance, designed by Architect Juan de Villanueva, we get to the Spring orchard on one side and Tagus river on the other side. Following the main street, we can also visit the Spanish Gardens and the Second Garden, where famous Arbor painted by Catalan Painter Santiago Rusiñol, (who found in these Gardens and great source of inspiration), is. The Garden of the Pavilions is a recreation area built for Charles III´s children that we can find next to Falúas Museum and Santiago Rusiñol Arbor, as well.
It is very relevant to mention the Sculptural sets represented in the fountains of Prince`s Garden. In gardens number three and four, we can find the magnificent sculptural composition of Narciso’s Fountain, built in times of Charles IV and surrounded by irregular gardening designs according to the English gardening style.
In garden number five, it is worth mentioning the fountain of Apollo, a sculptural and architectonical set conceived as the scenario of a long street with an outstanding vegetal perspective.
Garden number six is well known as the English – Chinese garden where the Chinescos Pond is located; there are two pavilions, the Classical Template built by Juan de Villanueva in times of Charles IV, formed by ten green Italian marble columns and the Chinese pavilion, that originally disappeared during the Napoleonic invasion and was later reconstructed by Isidro Gonzalez during the Reign of Ferdinand VII. Following the fashion of that time, and evoking Egypt Idols, the composition also includes an Obelisk coming from the personal collection of King Phillip V.
American and Asiatic Islands areas, planned by the end of 18th century, are named that way due to the fact that most of their plants come from those Continents. They are formed by very sinuous paths surrounded by small watering channels and exotic vegetation, adding an exceptional value to the garden as a Botanic Garden, as mentioned before.
In the eighth garden we can find La Casa del Labrador Palace. It was built during the reign of Charles IV and finished in the very beginning of 19th Century. It was originally built as a Country House and later turned into a small Palace used in Spring time by the King for his leisure and fun after hunting in the lands surrounding the place. It was initially isolated from the rest of the garden by a stretch of Tagus river and there were several bridges to get there. In Ferdinand VII’s times, Isidro Gonzalez planned a small garden around the Palace and the stretch was dried and bridges finally disappeared.
This small Palace was decorated by the most important artists of the time, such as painter Mariano Salvador Maella … Its rooms were covered with the finest clothes and carpets from the Royal Factory and the best handcrafts men of the time completed the wooden and marble, ornaments in ceilings, walls and furniture. Afterwards, during the Reing of Alfonso XII and even later in mid 20th century, the Palace had to be reformed due to some structural flaws of the building.
Miraflores Garden, the Ninth garden, was used for Queen Isabella II ‘s stud in late XIX century, and currently is a private part of the garden and cannot be visited.
Island Garden: 16th Century
Prince’s Garden: 18th Century
Brief description of the Interpretation Centre/Museum
The interpretation centre is located inside the Tourism Office of Aranjuez. Its main purpose is to promote tourism resources of the city to the visitors. It is a place of 130 m2 divided into two areas:
– The Hall
– Juan de Villanueva Exhibition Centre
Between the Hall and the Exhibition Centre there are public toilets (including one for disabled people).
The Hall has two functions: to start the visit of Aranjuez Cultural Landscape and to outbound visitors
Juan de Villanueva Exhibition Center is devoted to exhibitions and it is thematically divided into two areas: a guided tour around our Cultural Landscape displayed through panels and an area with chairs, a screen for audiovisuals and a mock-up of the Old City, the Historical Gardens and part of the Historical Groves.
To get to know our Cultural Landscape, visitors are guided through panels with attractive images and descriptions. The aim of this display is to stimulate the visitor to know more about the site and its historical background and to provide them with some tips to help them organize the visit according to their interests.
The structure of the exhibition script starts from the key concept: A Landscape Drawn by Humans. It is divided into five areas that are interconnected and perform an unbreakable link between the action of human being and the versatility of the landscape.
First Area: Presentation of Aranjuez, A Landscape Drawn by Humans.
The first panel explains the origin of the city from the concept of intervention of man in the landscape
Second Area: History and Human Landscape of the Royal Site
Important and relevant historical events and characters are shown in this area. The presence of the rivers Tagus and Jarama is suggested by aqueous sound effects while the panels narrate stories about emblematic characters: their works and their relationship with the landscape, the local people and the main historical events.
Third Area: A city to discover
Different itineraries are shown through the interactive mock-up
Fourth Area: The anthropic Nature: Gardens and Historical Groves
This area explains how humans have intervened in the territory to adapt it to their will and interests. We are consequently, before a site that expresses itself inby means of its gardens and forests, its fountains and artificial ponds and its Palatine buildings, as well.
Fifth Area: Culture and Tradition
This area is dedicated to illustrate culture and tradition of the place through special events such as the Mutiny of Aranjuez, The Historical Strawberry Train, the rich gastronomy based on excellent products from the historical vegetable orchards, and also world known personalities as Joaquín Rodrigo, author of the famous Concert of Aranjuez and Painter Santiago Rusiñol, among others.