Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain
The seasons have long been important for the Spanish Royal Family. It makes sense when you consider the extremes between different times of the year and different parts of the country. The season can have a huge effect on a lot of things… your general disposition one of those things, and that shouldn’t be quickly discounted.
And so it was for many centuries that the Spanish royals simply moved their court (and hence the seat of government) four times a year to different locations that were best suited for the particular season.
In springtime, the court moved to Aranjuez and it’s here that we find the magnificent Royal Palace of Aranjuez still standing, as stunning as ever.
The history of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez
The palace was established in the 16th century under King Philip II, although the site had already been in use by the royals for almost a hundred years as a hunting ground. Philip II was the first champion of Aranjuez but, when he died, construction was abandoned.
Thankfully there were more champions waiting to take his place. Construction restarted in 1700 under King Philip V with a plan to make it rival the Palace of Versailles. After a devastating fire, King Ferdinand VI rebuilt Aranjuez in a late Baroque style. And it was King Charles III who put the finishing touches on the palace in the late 1700s and made it how we see it today.
Once you go inside, what you still see today is incredible. The rooms are decorated in such luxurious detail, each with their own style, it feels as though you are in an art gallery where you walk through centuries of royal vogues.
But I can’t show you any of that. I wish I could but the Royal Palace of Aranjuez has a silly rule that prohibits photography. It’s one of my pet peeves and I’ll write more about photography policies sometime, I promise. For now, though, you will have to trust me that the Porcelain Room is unlike anything you have ever seen before.
The Royal Gardens of Aranjuez
So, because I can’t show you the interior of the palace, let me show you the gardens. And, actually, this may be a bit of a blessing in disguise because they don’t often get the same attention as the building but they are quite remarkable and are one of the main reasons why the Aranjuez Palace has been named a World Heritage Site, while most of the other Spanish royal sites haven’t been.
There are three main gardens attached to the palace and each has its own distinct style.
The Parterre Garden
Directly to the east of the main palace building – at what is considered the rear these days – is the Parterre Garden. It’s the most manicured of the three and has carefully-arranged flowerbeds, short hedge boxes, smooth statues, curving paths and large beautiful fountains. The Parterre Garden is not large and does not take long to walk through. It was always designed to be private and intimate.
The Island Garden
Connected by a small bridge over a canal, just to the north of the main palace building, is the Island Garden. It does technically sit on an island created by two diverging flows of the Tagus River but you don’t get that impression when you’re in it. The Island Garden is large, with the main axis more than 500 metres long. Taller hedges and trees with thick collections of leaves mean you can never see too far in any direction. Even the main paths through the garden are interrupted by wonderful fountains – not large but detailed and meaningful.
The Prince’s Garden
The largest of the three gardens – by a long way – is the Prince’s Garden, to the east of the palace. The perimeter of the garden is about seven kilometres long and the whole area is about 150 hectares. It’s a sprawling space and hard to see all of it on the one visit. The Chinese Pond stands out as a highlight, as does the number of large fountains. The tree-lined avenues create a sense of wild grandeur in the garden.
If you walk far enough through the Prince’s Garden, you’ll eventually hit the Casa del Labrador, a lodge amongst the trees. It’s large by the standards of any normal guesthouse but small compared to the main Aranjuez Palace. Inside, it is beautifully-decorated with fine items gathered from around the world and precious Spanish artworks.
It was built by Charles IV, the son of Charles III who took the time and care to complete the main palace. Charles IV loved Aranjuez but he also wanted it to feel like a home, not just like an official royal residence. This is why he built this lodge out in the garden – somewhere to escape with his family and friends. Somewhere he would feel comfortable.
It’s the same reason this land was first used by the royals as a hunting ground, and not too dissimilar to why a palace was built here for use in the spring. It’s about making the most of the seasons, of the nature, of the atmospheres that can turn royal life into something more pleasant.