Aranjuez is located in the south of the Community of Madrid in a fertile valley watered by two rivers, Tagus and Jarama rivers that, historically, have made of this territory a particularly fertile area in contrast to La Mancha plain that surrounds us.
The abundance of fauna and flora of this valley attracted the attention of nobles and kings already in the 12th Century. Then, they appreciated the value of Aranjuez as a recreation and hunting area. Later, in the 16th Century, Philip II decided to turn an ancient house-palace, which originally belonged to the Order of Santiago, into a larger Royal Palace that, together with other works of engineering, architecture and some hydraulic works are the origin of what we know today as Aranjuez Cultural Landscape.
The Island Garden
The Island Garden was originally designed in the XVI Century around the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. Nowadays, it is formed by small Gardens such as the Garden of the King, the Garden of the Queen, the Garden of the Parterre and the Island Garden itself. This set of gardens takes this name because, the main one is surrounded, on one side, by Tagus River and, on the other side, by an artificial construction called “La Ría”, which makes the garden an authentic island.King Philip II, Renaissance monarch, had travelled along Europe since very early age and, during his journeys, he had showed a great interest in nature.
His broad knowledge, gained by the experience of the long trips he made within his domains, explains the different styles that cohabit in the Island Garden of Aranjuez: the original garden, inspired in the vegetable gardens and orchards of Hispano-Muslim tradition with a productive purpose, including the traditional irrigation system; the Flemish aesthetic, well known by the monarch due to his travels around the Netherlands; and the Italian contribution from the architects Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, who would plan its Renaissance layout (including several fountains with Mythological sculptures) also giving it a scientific destiny according to the humanistic ideas of the time. Therefore, this garden was then also devoted to botanical experimentation and research.
Variety of species from different origins
Phillip II imagined a garden composed of a variety of species from different origins: native vegetation and exotic healing species from the New World. All of them were intended for medicinal use, creation of perfumes and as a nursery to supply other Royal Sites. Aranjuez became a place of acclimatization for many American species that needed certain climatic conditions that this place could offer, such as mild temperatures and environmental humidity. There came to be planted over 200,000 trees in that time.
This idea also considered the desire to turn the gardens into small zoos; the intention was to recreate the Universe on a small scale. Wild boars, deers, bulls, horses, calves, cows, but also camels, ostriches, birds and fishes cohabited in Aranjuez by that time.
On the other hand, the Prince’s Garden is the other most important historical garden in Aranjuez. This is the largest fenced garden in Europe and consists of pre-existing elements, orchards and gardens. In fact, it is also called “the garden of gardens”.
It is a landscape project directed by Charles III’s architect and gardener, Juan de Villanueva and Pablo Boutelou, where all these elements are assembled, creating an area of intervened nature according to the criteria of disordered and spontaneous beauty and botanical experimentation, quite typical of the Enlightenment Period. Not in vain, this garden has more than 190 different tree species, coming to be listed as a Botanical garden. In fact, already in the time of Felipe II, these lands were used as a center of botanical research and experimentation of acclimatization of species from the Indies. So, this botanical tradition was continued in the times of Charles III and Charles IV.
Nowadays, we can find several distinctive gardens such as the Royal Pavilion and the Dock, the Spanish Garden, the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Gardens, clearly influenced by the English style gardening.
The sixth and seventh gardens are the most well know ones in the Prince’s Garden as they hold the Chinescos Pond, full of fish and birds, swans and ducks and the Asian and American Islands, irregular design gardens were we can find the most emblematic and exotic centenary trees.
The Eighth Garden is where La Casa del Labrador was built as a Day Residence for resting after the long and tiring hunting days that the Royalty enjoyed around theses domains during the Reign of Charles IV.
Finally, the ninth garden, also called Miraflores Park, is placed quite far away from the historic center of the city of Aranjuez. Queen Isabella II devoted this area to her Royal Stud and there used to be free horses in this place until 1980, approximately.