Royal Palace of El Pardo
In 1983, this winter residence of the kings of Spain, now forming part of the country’s national heritage, was converted into guest accommodation for foreign heads of state on official visits to Spain.
Calle de Manuel Alonso s/n
Opening times October to March: weekdays, weekends and holidays 10:00 to 18:00. April to September: weekdays, weekends and holidays 10:00 to 20:00. (Close Monday)
Tarifas Standard (9,00€), Reduced (4,00€), Free entry for the under 5s.
Prior to the 14th century, this area was typically used for royal hunts. The first building (1405), a very early forerunner of the modern palace, was the work of Henry III (1390-1406). Later, the Catholic Monarchs used this building as a gunpowder store and arsenal. After this fell into ruin, the architect Luis de Vega built a hunting pavilion on the site for Charles I (1516-1556).
The building – a square construction built around a central courtyard with a medieval moat spanned by two bridges – was completed in 1558; four years later a Flemish-style slate roof was added along with English leaded windows, probably at the behest of Philip II (1556-1598). This same monarch commissioned Juan Bautista de Toledo with the task of completely renovating the palace. Four large towers were built with numerous windows topped with capitals. Highlights of the interior decoration include various paintings, among them two portraits by Antonio Moro, several works by Titian (for example, the one commonly known as The Venus of El Pardo) and various panels by Hieronymus Bosch, in addition to the portraits displayed in the Royal Hall. Also noteworthy are the decorative murals created by Gaspar Becerra, among them the spectacular group The Apotheosis of Perseus.
Fire and reconstruction
On 13 March 1604, a fire destroyed most of the building and many of its works of art, mainly portraits. A few months later, Philip III (1598-1621) commissioned reconstruction to Francisco de Mora, disciple and successor of Juan de Herrera, who was clearly influenced by the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, on which he also worked. On this occasion painters such as Cabrera and Vicente Carducho worked on the decoration.
In 1738, Philip V (1700-1746) commissioned the French architect François Carlier to build a royal chapel near the palace. During the reign of Ferdinand VI (1746-1759), the Royal Site was enlarged with the acquisition of new lands. Up until the reign of Charles III (1759-1788), the palace exterior had an austere monastic-military style, with its large perimeter wall. It was Charles III who instigated the greatest remodelling of the building, carried out by the court architect Francisco Sabatini, from 1772 onwards.
This artist and engineer from Palermo enlarged the building (doubling its size) and designed a rectangular, symmetrical floor plan, with two square interior courtyards and two new towers. Joining the two main bodies of the palace he built a magnificent monumental gateway, in the style of the French Baroque palaces. He also added the eastern courtyard. The French-inspired and rather noble styling was further enhanced by the tall chimneys which, set between the dormer windows and combined with the concave tower roofs (a clearly central-European detail), infuse the building overall with a light, elegant and human character. All of these changes were the result of a European hybridization of tastes acquired through the culture of the Enlightenment and also shared by the King.
Of particular note is the large collection of tapestries, made in the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid. The collection is one of the largest in Europe, with pieces filling 53 rooms. Of special interest are the designs by Castillo, Bayeu and, in particular, Francisco de Goya, who created some of his best known series specifically for the Royal Palace of El Pardo. The palace also has silks from Talavera de la Reina (Toledo), porcelain from El Retiro (Madrid) and Empire-style furniture.