El Pardo, Spain – January 21, 2012
Today Leslie and I decided to tour the Palacio Real de El Pardo (The Royal Palace El Pardo). It is only about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of our home. Maybe three or four kilometers (1.8 to 2.4 miles) south of El Pardo is the Palacio de Zarzuela. That is where the current King and Queen of Spain live today. Quite often, when the United States Embassy hosts VIP visitors, they come to Palacio de Zarzuela to have an audience with the King. Most recently that happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Spain. Maybe I will get an opportunity to see the palace the next time we have a VIP visitor…
We arrived at El Pardo at about 10:00. We were able to park within about 100 meters of the entrance. I took a couple of exterior photos and then we went inside.
After going through security, we walked into the gift shop to buy our tour tickets, a total of 18€ (US$22). The cashier said the next tour started at 10:45. We sat on a bench in the gift shop to wait for the visit. While we sat there, I spotted some magnets. I got one for Leslie’s collection. I also bought an English guidebook for the palace.
There was only one other couple in the gift shop when the tour began; so, it was the four of us, the tour guide, and a security guard. The security guard followed behind us throughout the entire tour. The tour guide narrated the tour in Spanish. My Spanish is good enough to allow me to understand what she was saying. Between me whispering in her ear and looking at the guidebook, Leslie was able to get the gist of the tour.
Monte de El Pardo is a heavily wooded area. That is the chosen location for the palace. Initially, the area was a hunting lodge and preserve. Construction of the palace began in 1543. According to an inscription above the main entry, 1547 is the date of completion.
The tour began in the Hapsburg Courtyard, within the center of the original palace. The palace consists of two floors; the ground floor and the first floor. In the courtyard, in the corners of the ground floor and the first floor, are four glassed-in galleries. I am not sure of their use.
We crossed the Hapsburg Courtyard and climbed the Queen’s Staircase. Walking up the stairs, we tried to take in the tapestries and the painted ceiling. When we got to the top of the stairs, we found ourselves in the Hapsburg Gallery, an open hallway overlooking the courtyard.
Leaving the Hapsburg Gallery, we went into the Queen’s Gallery. There were a couple of 16th-century tapestries and several paintings. However, the most striking part of the gallery is the ceiling. The ceiling as about a dozen paintings depicting the story of Joseph. The paintings date between 1607 and 1612.
After the Queen’s Gallery, we walked through the Room of Aurora (at this point a family of four joined our group, making us eight), the Room of the Biblical Heroines, the Green Room, and the Pink Room. We ended up in a room known as the Through Room. That is because there is a hidden door in the wall that leads to the Capilla Real or Royal Chapel.
The next room was one of the more charming places on the tour, the Gaspar Becerra Turret Room. I found it interesting because it is the only room in the palace that contains some of the decoration from the mid to late 1500s. Once again, the various art on the ceiling was quite striking.
Each room up to this point had tapestries on every wall. Not simply hung, each was attached to the wall, individually framed. They almost looked like paintings. Each room also had a beautiful chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling. One of them was hanging from the center of a beautifully sculpted Fleurette.
As one might infer from the narrative so far, photography is not allowed inside the palace. The following three photographs are directly from the Patrimonio Nacional website. One can find additional information about the palace at that website. These photographs provide a glimpse of the beauty of the palace.
We next entered the Zacarias Gonzalez Velazquez Room. The artist of the same name painted the ceiling. In one area he signed the painting and dated it 1825.
That led into a smaller room called the Room of Illustrious Men. It was the office of Carlos Ill, the King of Spain from 1759 to 1788. Once again, the ceiling from 1825 steals the show. In the main panel, one can see two angels holding up the coats of arms of Castile Leon and Catalunya Aragon. Those shields hearken to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The current King, Juan Carlos, traces his ancestry directly to them.
The Council Room or Formal Dining Room was next. This room was stunning both because of its size and its furnishings. When the dictator, General Francisco Franco, lived here, he used it as a Council Room. The vaulted ceiling boasts numerous paintings.
Just outside the Council Room is the Informal Council Room. Franco used the room for smaller meetings.
The Principal Office was next on our tour. Originally this was the King’s Dining Room. However, its decoration today dates from Franco’s time when he used it as his Official Office. The tapestries in the office date from about 1600, the oldest in the palace.
Leaving the office, we went through the library. I thought this was probably one of the least impressive rooms on this tour. When I think of a library, I think of floor to ceiling bookcases made of wood and filled with books. This library had just a few, hip-high bookcases.
From the library, we walked through the Lyre Room. We could not see anything in that room because it was undergoing renovation.
The next room was the Informal Dining Room. Although not its original use, this is now the room used by visiting heads of state as a dining room. It is much smaller than the Formal Dining Room, which seats 20-25. This Dining Room seats eight to ten.
The tour then wound through the Grey Room, the Mirror Room, and the Display Case Room. That led us to the Piano Room. It is one of the rooms used by visiting heads of state. The room contains a screen painted by Jose Maria Sert in 1920. Ironically, there are two murals by Sert in the main lobby of the United States Embassy in Madrid.
Leaving the Piano Room, we walked by and could see into the Oratory (small chapel). Originally this was the bedroom of King Alfonso XII, the reigning monarch from 1874 to 1885. After he died, Queen Maria Cristina turned it into the Oratory. It is small, sparsely decorated, yet very beautiful. The two most striking pieces of art are the sculpture, Christ on the Cross, and the sculpture of the Immaculate Virgin. The cross is about three feet high, carved in Seville, Spain in 1589. The statue of the Virgin is on the opposite wall, dating from the 17th century. It is about two and one-half feet tall. The level of detail on the Virgin sculpture is quite amazing. Both statues are of some white material, maybe alabaster.
We walked through the Oratory Corridor into the Official Ante-Chamber. The Ante-Chamber is the room just before Franco’s Bedroom. He used the bedroom from 1940 until his death in 1975.
Leaving the bedroom, one enters the Dressing Room. Along three of the walls are wood and glass display cases containing some of Franco’s uniforms. There is also a display case with some of his medals. Just out of the dressing room was his bathroom. It just looked like a 1960s-era bathroom.
We then descended the Carlos Ill Staircase to the Bourbon Courtyard. It is essentially a carbon copy of the Hapsburg Courtyard. From there, we walked through the Main Courtyard, back through the Hapsburg Courtyard and then exited the palace.
Once outside, we crossed the small drive to the Royal Chapel, constructed in 1738. We could only look from a barricade just inside the foyer. It is not as ornate as many of the other churches we have seen in Spain.
We walked around the very well-manicured palace gardens for a while. After taking a few photos, we walked into a nearby store, Zaguan de Palacio. We bought a few trinkets and moved on, looking for a place to have a coffee.
We chose Uncle Tony’s Bar, Bar el Tio Antonio. We each had a coffee. I also bought a couple of rosquillas (small donuts) and a Cana Crema Gigante (cream pastry). All of that was a whopping 3.90€ (US$4.75). Then I noticed they had patatas bravas on the menu, one of my favorites. They are cubes of potatoes, fried and topped with a spicy red sauce. Those were another 3.50€ (US$4.25).
We got back in the car and drove to la Quinta, a small palace nearby. We did not go in. We just walked through some of the gardens and then drove home.