A walk in the parks

We have reached that blissful point here in Madrid where we have visited all the major museums and seen just about all the major sights. Now it’s time for relaxing and enjoying the ambience of a very large city.

Madrid is blessed with a very large park right behind the Prado. Buen Retiro Park (literally translated “Park of the Pleasant Retreat) began as the playground of royalty in the 16th century before it was declared a public park in the 19th century. Il Retiro covers some 350 acres and includes interesting scultpures, fountains, buildings, a lake and exercise trails. I guarantee the last of those does not date back to the 19th century.  By way of comparison, City Park in New Orleans is 1,200 acres and Central Park in New York is about 800, but Il Retiro’s size feels just right.

Major design of the park dates back to the early 17th century when the great pond was built to stage mock naval battles for the amusement of the court. Today the pond is a pleasant focus of activity, with row boats available for rent and a party barge that ventures out over the still waters a few times a day.

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A heroic statue of Alphonso XII looks down over the lake in El Retiro where mock naval battles used to be staged for the enjoyment of royalty and their guests. Now more sedate maritime pursuits take place like rowing and party barge cruises.

Among the notable buildings on the grounds is the Crystal Palace, a glass and iron structure built in 1887 as the Philippine Islands Exhibition. Once a greenhouse on the scale of Kew Gardens outside London and later an art gallery, the Crystal Palace was closed for renovations when we walked up.

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What a party venue.

Another interesting feature is the Velazquez Palace built in 1884 and designed by the same architect who drew up the Crystal Palace. Today the Velazquez is used for temporary art exhibitions sponsored by the Prado.

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Part of the temporary art exhibition on display in the Velazquez building in El Retiro. The art is part of the Prado’s collection.

But perhaps the most fascinating feature of El Retiro is the Fountain of the Fallen Angel from 1877. Based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, the statue in the center of the fountain depicts the damnation of Lucifer and is likely the only statue in the world dedicated to Satan. Interestingly, the statue stands exactly 666 meters above sea level.

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In all his fallen glory stands Lucifer in El Retiro. Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven for him.
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Satan’s statue in his fountain is supported by a base of spitting gargoyles. Nasty little creatures, wouldn’t you say?

After our walk through the park, we poked our heads into the church of San Jeronimo right behind the Prado to marvel at its Spanish Baroque altar and art. And this is not considered a really significant church around these parts.

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Actually, this is a side altar in San Jeronimo.

Next we visited the adjacent Botanical Garden, which is operated by a private foundation that charges a modest four euros (50 cents for seniors!) for admission. The Botanical Garden is pretty extensive and showcases hundreds of plants, flowers and trees from all over the world. As we are late in in autumn, there is not much flower color anymore. And by now, we were parked out.

After buying tickets for a guided tour of El Escorial for Thursday, we enjoyed an al fresco lunch at La Plateria, a popular restaurant just off Paseo del Prado, then walked back to the apartment. By now it was already cocktail hour, and we were planning to eat at home anyway.

Not all days on our Excellent Adventure are filled with excitement. But that’s the point.

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