Royal Palace in Aranjuez, Spain

Royal Palace in Aranjuez – a beautiful place on the outskirts of Madrid

The Spanish town of Aranjuez is located 48 km south of Madrid. This small city with a population of 50 thousand people stands on two rivers: on the one side of the city runs the river Tajo, on the other – carries its waters tributary of the Jarama. In Aranjuez tourists are attracted by the many monuments of architecture in unity with the wealth of nature.

Among the religious, castle and museum buildings stands out the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. This is one of the most luxurious and popular attractions in the vicinity of Madrid. The palace was built in the 18th century as a residence of the Spanish monarchy for the spring and autumn holidays.

Royal Palace in Aranjuez

Royal Palace in Aranjuez

History of the landmark

The appearance of the future palatial landmark was initiated by King Charles V . He chose an area near the Spanish capital for his outdoor recreation. It was Charles’ son, Philip II, who ordered the construction of the residence. He commissioned a palace designed by Juan Boutista de Toledo, the architect who had created the lavish monastery palace of the Escorial. But after taking up his duties in Aranjuez, the designer and urban planner passed away before the work was completed.

The case was taken up by the architect’s pupil, Juan de Herrera. King Philip did not see the finished castle either – the underground chamber, and part of the southern and western facades of the building were rebuilt after his death. And in the XVI century, construction stopped due to the crisis in the country. The last Spanish rulers, the Habsburg dynasty, were also uninterested in the building.

Later, under Philip V, a new north tower was built and the facade work was completed. Further transformation of the castle was hindered by a fire in 1748. The very damaged building was rebuilt during the reign of Ferdinand VI on the basis of architectural suggestions from the 18th century.

During the reign of Charles III the palace was enlarged by two wings that surrounded the inner courtyard. As a result, the royal palace at Aranjuez differed considerably from the original project of the Toledo architect. In the XVIII-XIX centuries the castle inside was decorated with paintings of famous painters, furniture made of expensive wood, tapestries, statues, valuable dishes.

History of Aranjuez

The painting shows King Fernando VI and his wife Queen Barbara Braganza in the gardens of Aranjuez.

Description of the site and what to see

The royal palace in Aranjuez was built as the “Spanish answer” to the French Versailles. Its architecture is based on the Rococo and Baroque styles. The façade of the castle is done in white. The two-story structure includes more than 2,000 offices, but the doors of about 20 rooms are open to visitors.

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1. The most impressive in the palace is the Porcelain Room with its walls and enormous chandelier of royal porcelain. The delicate Italian porcelain decoration, made in 1765 by an Italian master, gives tourists the impression of a Chinese vase inside. The walls and ceiling of the hall amaze with the beauty of coatings in bright ornaments and outlandish figures, branching in unusual lianas, on which monkeys and parrots climb. Interesting are panels with worldly subjects and lots of mirrors – in which the abundant decor becomes even more abundant.

The throne room, with its walls and throne chair covered in red velvet, is located in the north wing of the palace. The crown of the monarch is kept in the room; it is held by a statue of Venus. The vault of the Throne Room is decorated with paintings in the Pompeian style.

3. The Empress’ Chamber is furnished with exquisite furniture ordered in a royal workshop in the 17th century.

4. The rooms of the monarchs are situated in the east wing of the castle. The ceiling of the Empress’ bedchamber is inlaid with frescos by the painter G. Velázquez. The allegorical paintings glorify the triumph of science, beneficence, art, law and absolutism. The king’s chamber is placed on the other side of the dance hall.

5. “The Arabian cabinet. The Arabic room, decorated in the spirit of Oriental luxury, is reminiscent of a room in the Alhambra palace in Granada.

6. The Mirror room and the Chinese painting room are splendid – you can admire the paintings given by the Chinese monarch to Queen Isabella II.

7. On the first floor of the castle there are displays on the life of the rulers and their entourage. There are displays of weapons, insignia and uniforms of the emperors and officers of the Guards, as well as portraits and biographies of royalty from the palace.

Royal Palace in Aranjuez

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez is the third most visited attraction in the region of Madrid after Cibeles and the Escorial Monastery in the town of San Lorenzo. Despite its provincial status, it is an extraordinary, full-fledged architectural and park ensemble, recognized as an international masterpiece. The treasures exhibited here are part of the Bourbon dynasty’s treasury, and a tour of all the rooms available to tourists, taking into account the break, will take at least five hours.

Since 2001 Aranjuez, the palace and the surrounding area have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. High titles do not cancel the original role of the building – it is still actively used by the royal family for ceremonies, international summits and negotiations. Because of this, the tour schedule is periodically shifted.

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Tickets and opening hours for the Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Traditionally for Spanish museums, all tickets are valid during business hours. Guests can interrupt their tour of the exhibits for lunch or to relax in the park, then return and re-check in using the same tickets without paying anything extra.

Twice a year the palace announces free admission for all comers – on International Museum Day on May 18, and on October 12, the national holiday of the Hispaniola.

The right to free admission throughout the calendar year can be enjoyed by:

  • children under the age of 5;
  • Employees of public museums with an ICOM card;
  • Temporarily unemployed with citizenship of any EU country or with an open residence permit (on identity card);
  • Persons with disabilities of any group with one companion;
  • Licensed tour guides with an official tour permit.

The Aranjuez Palace is open every day except Mondays from 10:00 to 18:00 (October-March) and until 20:00 (April-September). There are only three days off each year: December 24th, 25th and 31st. All other national or religious holidays are open as usual with no siesta breaks.

History

The first attempts to create a residence or at least a hunting lodge in a picturesque suburb of Madrid were made in the Middle Ages, and the crusaders of the Order of Santiago, in which the future Castilian King Ferdinand II of Aragon was a member, were responsible for the erection. Constant conflicts with neighbors changed the borders of possessions, but by the 1534th year the place Aranjuez was officially included in the jurisdiction of the crown, and even planted the first trees for the young heirs to the throne.

The construction of the stone palace began under Philip II, the extraordinary monarch had an excellent grasp of engineering and even drew up plans with drawings. For XVI century ideas in many respects were innovative. The original plan laid out 12 streets from the residence in a radial perspective, three on each side of the world, orchards with servants’ houses and a gallery with several guard towers. All of this formed the basis of the south façade and the sprawling park.

Radical changes began a century later, when Louis XIV presented his Versailles to astonished Europe, and the Spaniards needed something to respond. Fountains after the French parks had failed to surprise the enlightened public, and the engineers of Aranjuez went further – the river banks, approaching the palace, were decorated with cascading waterfalls, and the northern facade was turned into a pier for pleasure boats. Later in the gardens would appear the court theater with an orchestra.

Palace on an 18th century engraving

The 19th century was almost fatal. Isabella II ordered the complete redesign of the halls from the first floor to the top floor, furnishing everything in a way befitting a monarch. As a result, the eclectic look of the bedrooms and offices, inspired by different styles and cultures, was partially lost and the number of galleries with portraits and landscapes was significantly reduced – they were replaced by gilded furniture and marble. The queen’s caprice came at a high cost to history, but it made the residence richer.

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From 1899 the residence was expectedly “downgraded” to villa status as the main ceremonial events moved to other palaces. The royal family continued to come here every spring, arranging official vacations before the Catholic Easter, but the global significance of the large-scale complex gradually lost. By sheer luck, Aranjuez suffered little or no damage during World War II, making it easier to prepare the future museum.

Today, the palace and park ensemble of Aranjuez is considered one of the best historical museums of Europe. It continues to be compared to Versailles and Russian Peterhof, although behind the big words there is a rare identity. Much of the facade is Spanish Baroque, and there are very few buildings in this style surviving anywhere in the world. The palace is open for tours as much as possible – outside of events, tourists are even guided through the private rooms.

Helicopter view of Aranjuez Palace

Aranjuez Palace Exhibit

The tour always begins with the grand staircase, which is the only part of the residence that was not repaired during the reign of Isabella II. Everything from the stone balustrade and wrought iron railings to the huge 200-lamp chandelier that was once the largest gas lamp in Spain is fascinating. From here is the main entrance to the south wing with a landscape enfilade – it was designed by Philip IV the Beautiful, the tapestries on the walls refer to his era.

Next is the study of Charles II, which, according to legend, was converted several times into a dressing room, but never lost its opulence. The red marble on the floor and the painted ceiling plafonds are a reminder of fabulous wealth. Several doors lead out of the room, and guides most often continue the story in the east wing. Its key decoration is the yellow ballroom and the so-called gala dining room, where the royal heirs gathered for lunches and dinners on special occasions.

Yellow Ballroom

No less interesting is the Arabic room of the mid-19th century. It was planned as a smoking room with sofas, and the bright Moorish paintings on the walls were supposed to relax the gentlemen for small talk. Ironically, the chief decorator of the room had little idea of the art of the Arab world. On the walls one can see absolutely incongruous elements: Persian ligature and typical European geometry create kitschy colorfulness which is no less valuable in its riot of colors.

From the East, guests will be invited to return to the culprit of the main restoration – Isabella’s chambers are divided into several parts. This is directly her bedroom and boudoir with the preserved dressing table of the empress. She herself preferred the French style, but she trusted only her fellow countrymen to paint her walls. For example, the colorful ceiling plafond was painted by the son of the painter Antonio Velazquez, depicting a limbo of paradise with archangels and seraphim.

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Isabella II's Bedroom

From the bedroom a lavishly decorated gallery leads directly to the throne room, and even here the Spanish monarchs’ peculiar sense of humor prevailed. During the reign of Charles IV the spacious room was used as a dining room, but his son Ferdinand VII ordered to reconsider the interior. From the enfilade one could see the doors to the lounges – a boudoir for the ladies of the court and a very discreet billiard room, where men could relax.

We could finish the inside exposition in the jewelry porcelain room. It began to be decorated in 1736 – the royal factory received an unprecedented order for the production of figurines and moldings. The final touches of the interior were made by the famous Italian Giuseppe Gricci, the inventor of soft-powder porcelain. The result surpassed all expectations – for the sake of this modest in the scale of the palace, people come from all over the world to this day.

Porcelain ceiling plafond

Interesting facts

On the territory of the palace there are several private buildings of different epochs, but the most interesting is the so-called House of the Peasant – Casa del Labrador. It was built as a secluded resting place for Charles III, and despite the name, it is far from peasant poverty. The facade is decorated with many sculptures of historical figures from the Bourbon family and inside it is decorated with marble, granite and authentic paintings of famous Spanish painters of the first half of the XIX century.

Until the First World War, the residence was actively used as a venue for balls and weddings between the highest aristocratic families. The last notorious union was the dynastic marriage between Alfonso XII and Marie d’Orléans in 1876. The relationship was opposed personally by Isabella II, already a lady of advanced years. It is rumored that the elderly empress intended to poison the wedding feast, but there is no evidence of that.

One of the palace’s gardens contains the tomb of the legendary Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, who wrote his classical concerto for guitar and orchestra on the eve of World War II. His blindness did not prevent him from creating outstanding music that has appeared on the soundtracks of dozens of feature films. The monument to the blind maestro is in the form of a white avant-garde obelisk with a head and a double signature of his name in Spanish and Braille.

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The island, separated from the palace by a river with a cascade, is famous for its monuments, which are separated by a long maze of hedges. Just behind the gate, visitors are greeted by “The Apothecary” and a copy of Michelangelo’s famous work, The Boy Pulling Out the Splinter. The remaining fountains are dedicated to the ancient Greek pantheon of gods and creatures – Hercules fighting the hydra, Neptune, Dionysus and Venus. The Parterre Garden has a different aesthetic, closer to the French.

How to get to the Royal Palace in Aranjuez

The palace and park ensemble occupies the central part of the town of Aranjuez, and, like all the suburbs of Madrid, it is connected to the capital by a convenient network of bus routes. Most tourists are invited to go to the bus stop “Príncipe-stuart”, from it to the main gate to walk about 500 meters through the Parterre Garden and several roadways. There is no extreme traffic, many seasoned travelers confidently step on the side of the road.

Another option is to take a local bus to the stop “Gobernador”, the walk from it is not much less. Getting out of the car, get lost is impossible – the southern facade of the palace is visible through the square, the main thing near the parking lot is to turn right, not trying to cut, otherwise you’ll have to return, making a considerable detour. The landmark is the historic courthouse with the snow-white arched colonnade, which is now the tourist information center.

An alternative way – sightseeing train “El Tren de la Fresa”, created in 1984 specifically to take foreign visitors from Madrid to Aranjuez and the nearby strawberry plantations. It runs from April to October (except August – harvest season) up to eight times a month, depending on demand. For tourists there is a detailed website (Russian included optionally) with all the information on the route and departures.

With a cab the situation is ambiguous – in Madrid is well developed municipal service with controlled tariffs, but the trip to the palace will be counted according to the suburban meter, that is 35-40% more expensive. Uber mobile app in Spain works, but is burdened with a variety of restrictions due to constant strikes by local drivers – there may be problems with waiting.

The palace management has taken care of motorists – there is a landscaped paid parking lot with guards across the block (40.033418, -3.608747). In 2022 the cost is from 1 € per hour, you can pay for the time through a contactless system of a cell phone or a smart bracelet. Free parking is not recommended – monthly precedents with thefts of vehicles, theft of valuables from the cabin and banal vandalism are registered.

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