The Parque del Buen Retiro is the most popular park in Madrid. It can get crowded during weekends when many Madrilenian families go for a stroll in the park and street musicians, sidewalk painters, fortune-tellers, jugglers and street performers animate the crowd.
A Royal Park
The Retiro Park was created as a royal park; it belonged to the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro palace. In 1632, the palace was built by King Philips IV as a retreat for the Royal family. Retiro stands for retreat, hence the name of the park and palace.
At the time the park was well outside the city walls, but now Madrid has completely enclosed the Retiro park. The 130 hectare / 320 acre large royal parks opened to the public in 1868. It is partially laid out in a formal French style, while other parts are more natural.
Museo del Ejército
Of the original palace, only two buildings survived, the rest were destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars. One of the remaining buildings houses the Museo del Ejército, an army museum. The museum covers Spain’s military history. It contains a nice collection of armor. The most important item in the collection is the sword of El Cid or La Tizona. Not really weaponry, but another notable item on display is the cross that Columbus took with him to the New World.
The other surviving building is the Casón del Buen Retiro, a museum with a collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings, including works by Joaquín Sorolla.
Close to the northern entrance of the Parque del Retiro is a large artificial lake, the Estanque del Retiro. Here you can rent a rowing boat, especially popular during weekends. A large monument with an equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII overlooks the lake. The monument, erected in 1922 by King Alfonso’s mother, consists of a semicircular colonnade with an equestrian statue of the King in front.
More to the south is another, much smaller lake. At the edge of the lake is a beautiful glass building, the Palacio de Cristal. Built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco after the Crystal Palace in London, it was initially used to house exotic plants brought over from the Philippines. It is now mainly used for temporary exhibitions.
Nearby is another pavilion, the Palacio de Velázquez, designed in 1884 by the same architect. Now also used for temporary exhibitions, it originally served as a pavilion for the national exhibition of the mining, metal, glass and ceramics industry.
Another feature of the park is the Rose Garden, the Rosaleda. And probably the most remarkable feature of the Retiro Park is one of its statues, El Angel Caído. It is dedicated to Satan, possibly the only such statue in Europe.