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Aranjuez: historical heritage

Landmarks of Aranjuez

Aranjuez is a tremendously varied mosaic, a smorgasbord of places, spaces and monumental buildings that is highly attractive to tourists. Areas of high landscape and environmental value, such as Sotos del Rey Felipe II or the course of the Tagus, are combined in careful harmony with gardens watered from this same river, be it the delicate spaces of the Parterre or The Island, or the immense Prince's Garden, a whole forest full of works of art flanking the river. Next to it, palaces, historical houses, temples, and an exemplary baroque urban center.

Throughout the year, there is a highly attractive cultural environment and activities, with milestones of international tourist interest such as the festivities of the Tumult of Aranjuez (1808), as well as a large number of musical and sporting events. Among them, we can highlight the celebration, every spring, of the Early Music Festival, as well as those held in the Charles III Royal Theater or the Elisabeth Farnese Cultural Center. In the area of sports, on the banks of the Tagus, you can find its Canoeing Club, home to various water sports events that are very important in the national ranking.

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is the main monumental landmark of Aranjuez. It was Philip II who activated his father Charles V’s project for the construction of a palace instead of the initial and modest "master house" of the Order of Santiago. Juan Bautista de Toledo began work in 1561, and after his death, he was succeeded by Gerónimo Gili and Juan de Herrera at the helm. Work was halted due to a lack of resources and was not resumed until the arrival of the Bourbons.

Philip V took it up again with Caro Idrogo, carrying out the first extension. After a raging fire that started from the palatial kitchens, Ferdinand VI continued it, restoring and expanding it under the guidelines of Bonavía, an architect who, at the same time, designed what would be the new urban road of the Royal Precinct.

It was Charles III who added the two perpendicular wings to the main façade, giving it the current “U”-shaped appearance, with the aesthetic unity of its origin in the Herrera style, the neoclassical influences, and that beautiful contrast between the red brick and the stone of Apiary. The interior dazzles us with richly decorated rooms that witnessed a crucial part of our history.

Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Historical center

Until the 18th century, people were forbidden from settling in the Royal Precinct outside the palace. The predilection of Ferdinand VI and his wife Bárbara de Braganza for Aranjuez, together with a large number of courtiers and Farinelli's advice, encouraged the king to design a new town. This commission fell to the famous architect Santiago Bonavía. In thirty years, what was once a private estate became a populous town with a church, hospital and theater, as well as shops and all kinds of services.

The urban environment that surrounds the Royal Palace constitutes an exceptional complex in which we should not look for isolated monumental grandeur, but rather the regularity of the complex, always gravitating around the Palace. Thus, on the one hand, we can appreciate the regular street design in a geometric mosaic of grid streets. And in this scheme, the exceptional scenographic framework of the Plaza de San Antonio emerges. 21,000 m2, in a space presided over by the baroque concavo-convex arcade of the Royal Chapel of San Antonio, framed between arcades and closed by a monumental fountain. A few meters away is the Plaza de Parejas, another 30,000 m2 space conceived a priori as a space for royal events. And, the La Reina, Príncipe and Infantas streets, which converge at the gate of the palatial Parterre park.

The Quarters for Officials, Knights and Princes, those large closed blocks with quasi-monastic cloisters inside and other elements, are smaller but no less noteworthy. On the one hand, the ecclesial heritage, where the aforementioned baroque church of the Royal Chapel de San Antonio stands out, with the spectacular undulating arches that embrace one of the ends of the Plaza de San Antonio and overlook the streets. Also closing another of the vectors of the Aranjuez road, in its royal trident, the 17th century chapel of Alpajés. Further to the south, we have the Convent of San Pascual, a spectacular neoclassical building that was neglected and even used as a prison during our civil war and is currently a cloistered convent and school.

Aerial landscape of Aranjuez
In the civil sphere, we should mention the palaces that the noble courtiers built to live together with the monarch during his stays in Aranjuez. These are, for example, the Palace of Medinaceli, from the 18th century and now converted into a home, the Casa del Gobernador (today the university headquarters) and the Palace of Godoy, which is able to evoke numerous historical events. Also from the civil sphere, the Hospital de San Carlos should be highlighted; one of Bonavía's first works in Aranjuez and which set the pattern for other riverside buildings. Its architecture is unique and it attended to the health of the residents of the Royal Precinct, who were left without a hospital when the Court moved. They are currently classrooms for the local university campus.

And in addition to the health of the body, a theater was built for the health of the soul, the Charles III Royal Theater. From the year 1768, it was the setting for events at the court, and the text inscribed on its façade attests to this: “Rudos deliciis urbana adjecta. Voluptas Jussu CAROLI TERTII. Anno MDCCLXVIII”, which we could translate as: “Here, in Aranjuez, the delights of the countryside come together with the pleasures of the city. Charles III, 1768”. Heavily rebuilt, it retains its original façade and its current interior has been restored to its original appearance by integrating those parts of the original building that had been preserved.

But without a doubt, one of the most outstanding features is its bullring (the second oldest in Spain). It dates from 1796 and is one of the largest in Spain. It has a royal box, with its own access from the outside and when it was built its capacity was 6,000 spectators and the population was 4,226 people. It currently has a capacity of 9,000 people. Made of brick and stone from Colmenar, it houses an attractive courtyard for cuadrillas (teams of bullfighters), an alley, animal pens, a chapel and, especially, the immaculately preserved corrals, which tell us stories from bullfighting’s past. Inside there is a small museum that exhibits all kinds of items related to the many bullfighting soirées that have been held there.

With the arrival of the railway in 1855 came a new architectural trend, and the food market, built with an iron structure, is an excellent example of this, linked to the architecture of Aranjuez thanks to the exposed brick and Colmenar stone enclosure. The station itself, from the 1920s, is a high-value Neo-Mudejar style building, where, in addition to the passenger building itself, the coffered ceilings of the lobby stand out. It is the work of Narciso Clavería, an architect whose works include the nearby Algodor stations, and, above all, Toledo.

All this collected heritage earned this city the classification of "Artistic Historic Complex" in 1983.

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