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El Retiro Park

El Retiro Park in the east of the city is one of Madrid’s largest and perhaps best loved parks. Boasting a lovely boating lake as well as several tourist attractions such as the Crystal Palace, Retiro Park can be reached by the red metro line L2 with its own stop at Retiro at the Plaza de Independencia.

During the winter the park is open to the public from Mondays to Sundays from 06:00 to 22:00 hours. In summer visitors can enjoy the park from Mondays to Sundays between the hours of 06:00 to midnight.

Retiro Park was once a palace garden, with the boating lake and majestic fountains still bearing witness to its grander, regal days. On Sunday's visitors can enjoy traditional Punch and Judy shows, have their future read by tarot card readers and sample old-fashioned candy floss from various stalls dotted around the park or eat their Sunday lunch at one of the cafe bars, where musicians entertain the diners.

Officially known as Buen Retiro Park, El Retiro belonged to the Spanish crown until the late 19th century, when it became the property of the Madrid municipality. The 350 acres site is located in close proximity to the Puerta de Alcalá and within a short walk of the Prado Museum. Blessed with beautiful sculptures and interesting monuments, galleries, formal gardens, a rose garden, a beautiful lake and other water features, the park plays host to a variety of events throughout the year.

The site once belonged to a monastery, but King Philip II relocated the Spanish court to Madrid in 1561, asking his architect Juan Bautista de Toledo to redesign the site with gardens and formal avenues of trees. In 1620 the park was extended, when King Philip IV's powerful friend Gaspar de Guzmán, the Count-Duke of Olivares, presented the Crown with several tracts of land. Olivares even undertook to build a house fit for a king in a location that best pleased his monarch.

The house was extended in the 1630s, when several buildings were added rather hastily. Two can still be seen today: the "Casón del Buen Retiro" was once used as a ballroom, while the building now housing the military museum, the Museo del Ejército, was once the impressive entrance hall and served as the Salón de Reinos. The original splendour of the entire complex of buildings can only be guessed at, when taking into account the walls were decorated with paintings by Velázquez and frescoes by Luca Giordano.

The large pond once served as the playground of royals, who fought mock naval battles at its shores. Together with the great canal, the narrow channel, the bellflower pond and the chapels the great pond forms the basic layout of Buen Retiro. When Philip IV died in 1665, the gardens fell into disrepair, but were later restored and enhanced during Queen Isabella II’s reign with the planting of shade and fruit trees. El Retiro became a public park in 1868.