Madrid’s El Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Even though Madrid’s region has been granted four sites by UNESCO, this is the first time the Spanish capital has made the list with two famous locations.
El Retiro Park
Covering over 125 hectares El Retiro Park is a green oasis in the heart of the city. The park dates back to the 17th century and it belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. There are several interesting monuments scattered about this historic garden. El Palacio de Cristal is an impressive iron and glass structure that resembles a giant greenhouse and was built in 1887. It was a conservatory for tropical plants in the past but today it hosts modern art exhibitions and entry is totally free.
La Rosaleda (The Rose Garden) is at its best in the months of May and June, when the roses bloom. Designed in 1915, imitating other European cities, it has more than 4000 roses. It is a quiet and beautiful place to visit.
A focal point of El Retiro is the artificial lake. Built between 1634 and 1636, it was the heart of the garden and was used to hold water shows, such as navy battles and boat rides for the Kings and their Court. Today you can rent a rowing boat for a few euros but be aware that it is normally very crowded during tourist peak season in the summer.
El Bosque del Recuerdo (Remembrance Forest) is a beautiful memorial to the 191 victims of the 11 March 2004 train bombings in Madrid. An olive or cypress tree stands for each victim.
Paseo del Prado
Paseo del Prado is a historical boulevard, a landmark for the city residents and the location of important cultural and tourist spots in the city. The first urban development of the area took place in the sixteenth century under King Philip II reign and included the planting of rows of trees. However, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century, under the reign of King Charles III, when it was redeveloped and became a recreational and cultural area for the citizens of Madrid.
El Prado Museum, one of the world’s greatest collections of art, opened to the public on 19 November 1819 as a Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture. Thanks to the high quality of the collections and the great representation of many of the most important artists in the history of painting, the Prado Museum is often considered “a museum of masterpieces”.
Cibeles Fountain stands in the centre of the Plaza de Cibeles and it is the start of Madrid’s avenue of art. Commissioned by King Charles III, it was designed by renowned Spanish architect Ventura Rodriguez and has been standing in this emblematic square since 1782. It shows Cybele, the Great Mother of the gods and Roman goddess of fertility, on a chariot drawn by two lions. Being one of the city’s famous landmarks and having an identical twin in Mexico City, it’s where soccer fans head to and celebrate Real Madrid’s many victories.
Palace Hotel was built in 1911 and inaugurated a year later as Europe’s largest hotel. Each of its 500 rooms had en-suit bathrooms and a phone which was something unusual for the time. Since then, the hotel has been a meeting point for artists, intellectuals and politicians. In 2000, the Palace belongs to Westin Hotels and Resorts and it is now called The Westin Palace Hotel.
The Bank of Spain is one of the most incredible examples of 19th-century Spanish architecture. It is an eclectic building in which the façades, facing two avenues, stand out. They are complemented by the French-style doors and grillwork. The staircases, an excellent example of traditional Spanish architecture, and the courtyard that houses the library are of special interest.
Los Jeronimos was once one of the most important monasteries in Madrid. It dates back to 1464 and was built in the Gothic style under the orders of the Catholic Monarchs. It has undergone many alterations and renovations over the years. After the Independence War against Napoleon’s army, it was almost left in ruins. The cloister was included in the recent extension to the Museo del Prado. It was dismantled and removed stone by stone to be incorporated into the museum.
The Stock Exchange building is a neoclassical-style palace that opened its doors on 7 May 1893. One of its great features is the Stock Exchange Clock, a replica of the one in Amsterdam. It has three faces that indicate the trading time, and a fourth, which acts as a barometer.