La Granja Things to Do

  • Map of the Gardens.
    Map of the Gardens.
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  • Horseshoe Courtyard and gate.
    Horseshoe Courtyard and gate.
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  • Patio de la Herradura - Horseshoe Courtyard.
    Patio de la Herradura - Horseshoe...
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Most Recent Things to Do in La Granja

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    Weather at La Granja de San Ildefonso.

    by breughel Written Jan 28, 2013

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    Blue sky above the Guadarrama mountains.

    Located at an altitude of 1190 m (higher than Segovia 1005 m) visitors should no be surprised that it freezes and snows in winter. This is not the Costa del Sol!
    Summer is not so warm, about 21°C, because of the altitude.

    When we were at La Granja beginning October day temperature was about 17°C and only 6°C at night.
    We were lucky to have chosen for begin October because in the second half of September 2012 there was a lot of rain over Spain with floods in Andalusia and Madrid.
    We had a very sunny weather somewhat cold in the morning and evening.

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    FOUNTAINS.

    by breughel Updated Jan 26, 2013

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    Dry Fountain of the Dragons.
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    It is not surprising that the grandson of Louis XIV after seeing the fountains of Versailles wanted to have fountains in the gardens of his Spanish Palace. Twenty-six fountains with sculptures decorate the park. The water is that flowing from the mountain and collected in a reservoir called "El Mar". The several kilometers of iron pipes by simple pressure raises the water out of the fountains.
    At the Fountain of Fame, the lowest of the gardens the water reaches a height of 40 m.
    Unfortunately the fountains are not often working although one of them the Baths of Diana, on the western edge of the park, has been equipped with pumps and water recycling.
    It seems that the rather depressive King Philip V said "It has cost me three millions and amused me three minutes."
    I have visited twice the gardens of La Granja and saw only the fountains of the Baths of Diana at work. All the others remained dry or just a bit of stagnating water.

    Actually there are only three days per year where ALL the fountains play:
    May 30, July 25, August 25 (feast of St-Louis patron of the Royal Seat) at 17.30 h.
    On these days the gardens are crowded as can be expected.
    Other part of the year from end of March till end of September (depending on the water available in the upper reservoirs?) on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays or Feast days at 17.30 h. Only a few (3 or 4) fountains are playing, NOT all, in the following order (and not for long so be there well in time):
    1) “Cascada Nueva”, “Vientos”, “Ocho Calles”, “Fama” or
    2) “Canastillo”, “Ranas”, “Baños de Diana”, “Fama”
    From 7/07 till 18/08 every Saturday between 22.30 and 23.30 h the "Los Baños de Diana" fountains are playing.
    When the fountains play visitors have to pay (4€) the entry at the gardens from 15.00 on.
    On Saturday evening in summer: 2€.

    We came there begin October 2012 and nothing was working although it had been raining a lot in September. On a previous visit in the spring we saw only the fountain of the Bath's of Diana, the most spectacular, playing for about half an hour.

    For more info see the official site in Spanish:
    http://www.patrimonionacional.es/Home/Palacios-Reales/Palacio-Real-de-La-Granja-de-San-Ildefonso/Horario.aspx

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    THE FOUNTAIN'S SCULPTURES.

    by breughel Written Jan 26, 2013

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    Lead Sculpture - Red bronze varnished.
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    This is the best preserved collection of French decorative sculptures of the first half of the 17th c.
    They are mainly the work of two artists:
    René Frémin who created numerous works for Versailles and Jean Thierry who made many sculptures at Marly destroyed by the Revolution. When these artists had returned to France the task was completed by Jacques Bousseau.
    The inspiration of the sculptures at La Granja was French inspired by the style of the Louis XIV century.
    The pieces are of high quality but for economic reasons were not cast in bronze but were made in lead and coated with a reddish varnish that surprises and even shocks many visitors.
    On my first visit in the 1990s the sculptures seemed to me to show a classical bronze colour but on my recent visit the sculptures showed a somewhat aggressive (at least for my taste) red varnish.
    It appears that this recent reddish varnish imitating bronze was the original one and was common practice in France at that time. Amateurs of genuine bronze may wait that the atmosphere and time will give the sculptures of La Granja a somewhat more usual bronze look.
    All these sculptures decorating the fountains represent mythological themes.

    There are also other sculptures and urns for example the Sphinx decorating the parterre. They are also in lead but painted white to imitate marble.

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    THE GARDENS.

    by breughel Updated Jan 24, 2013

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    Ocho Calles circus.
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    Most visitors to La Granja de San Ildefonso go there to see the gardens. Actually for King Felipe V the garden was more important than the palace.
    Philip V as a grandson of King Louis XIV had admired the Gardens of Versailles but for his retirement at La Granja he preferred as model another garden of the Roi Soleil i.e. Marly (destroyed under the French Revolution). He commissioned the French architect René Carlier but he decided personally of the site and limits. They occupy 146 hectares, of which 67 are actually forests.
    In front of the palace's main façade (see Main Façade ) the lay out consists in four principal axes (Grove of the Winds, Main Cascade, Ria or Old Cascade) on a rising land what makes the garden so beautiful seen from the terrace of the Palace. From the upper part at the Marble Summer House the view is that of the magnificent Juvarra's façade.
    On the southern side of the gardens is a park with eight avenues Ocho Calles converging at a central circus. There are also a number of "potagers"
    The fountains and sculptures are described in another tip.

    The gardens are open each day from 10 h till 1 hour before sunset. Free when the fountains are not working (that is most of the time). The fountains are working in the spring and summer on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 17.30 h. Then from 15 h visitors have to pay 4 €.

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    Royal Palace - Sculpture collection

    by breughel Updated Jan 21, 2013

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    View from ground floor.

    The ground floor with 12 rooms houses the sculpture collection of Felipe V and Isabella Farnese. Part of it belonged to Queen Christina of Sweden. Unfortunately few of these sculptures are antique originals as most were sent in the 19th c. to the Prado museum in Madrid. For connoisseurs the plaster casts now on display are interesting as they were made in the 18th c. before the restoration of the original ones.
    The sculpture gallery has been reconstructed as it was in the 18th c. The rooms are decorated with stucco work, ceiling paintings, fictive architecture in the Italian manner. The floors are inlaid with polychrome marble. This decoration gives a pleasant sensation of lightness and freshness.

    In the "Room of Truth" was standing the original (now a copy) of the so-called St Ildefonso Group the most important statue group from the Queen Christina of Sweden collection. The original now in the Prado Museum dates from the 1st c. AD. The persons are identified as Castor and Pollux.
    Other nice work of art is the Fountain of Galatea.

    Photos are not allowed inside the palace.

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    The Tapestry Museum.

    by breughel Updated Jan 21, 2013

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    The guidebook of the Palace says: The Tapestry Collection of the Spanish Crown, the richest in the world … owes its exceptional quality and quantity to the dominium of the Spanish Sovereigns of the House of Austria (Hapsburg) over the Low Countries (presently Belgium).
    The Catholic Monarchs and the Spanish aristocracy were very fond of this refined form of art so that by the end of the 15th c. large quantities of Flemish tapestries were to be found in Spanish homes and palaces.

    On the main floor of the La Granja Palace in five rooms some of the best quality are on display.

    Room 21: "The Honours" Nine allegorical tapestries referring to ethics inspired by ideas from authors of the antiquity and humanists. Belonged to Emperor Charles V. Woven in Brussels in 1523 by one of the most famous weavers Pieter van Aelst (also named Pieter van Edingen). Cartoons attributed to painters Bernard Van Orley and Gossaert (Mabuse).
    Room 22: "The Passion of Christ" Five tapestries belonged to Margarita of Austria. Woven in Brussels by Pieter de Pannemaeker. Cartoons by painter Bernard Van Orley.
    Room 23: The Tapestries of Isabella the Catholic. The Queen had a collection of more than three hundred tapestries! On display here are a few dating from the end of the 15th c. "Nativity", "St Gregory Mass", "Tree of Jesse". Two are Flemish, one from Brussels woven around 1495. In that time tapestries from Brussels were not wearing the B in B sign meaning Brussels in Brabant that became usual in the 16th c.
    Room 24: "David and Betsabé" series. Three Brussels' tapestries from 1515.
    Room 25: "Scenes of the Life of the Virgin Mary".

    Most of these tapestries are large, about 3 x 4 m and made of wool, silk, silver and gold yarns.

    Photos are not allowed inside the palace so that I can only show here the front page of a book edited (2004) by the Patrimonio Nacional: "Tapices de Isabel la Catolica" that is on sale at the book shop of the Palace. Large part is in Spanish but main comments are translated in English at the end. It is a real bargain (15 € for 160 pages full with illustrations) for amateurs-connoisseurs of Flemish tapestries.

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    Visit of the Royal Palace - Main floor.

    by breughel Written Jan 19, 2013

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    View from rooms
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    The 33 rooms open to visits belong to three distinct sections:
    Most valuable is the tapestry collection which I will describe in another tip. The ground floor houses the sculpture collection in 12 rooms decorated in the Italian manner. It is the subject of a specific tip.

    Sixteen rooms on the main floor overlooking the beautiful main façade from Juvarra with views on the New Cascade are those of the Monarchs. Some have been damaged by fire in 1918 but have been restored to their original appearance during the period of King Felipe V. The rooms have ceilings with Italian fresco paintings. Door and windows are original dating from 1735.
    Most furniture, paintings and decorative items are from the 18th century. The décor is well worth the visit with the explanations from the audio guide. I was much impressed by the Monarch's bedroom with the view on the New Cascade, the park, woodlands and in the distance the Guadarrama Mountains.

    Photos are not allowed inside the palace but to illustrate my tip I show here a painting by Louis-Michel van Loo "The Family of Philip V". Photo from Wikimedia. Work in the public domain.

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    Visitor's entrance and carriage courtyard.

    by breughel Updated Jan 19, 2013

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    Carriage courtyard
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    Left of the collegiate church is the visitor's entrance to the Royal Palace and the Patio de Coches - Carriage courtyard.
    This courtyard was mostly designed by Procaccini and opens on the lower part of the garden with the fountain and glades "de la Selva" (the forest).

    The Palacio Real and its collections of mainly Flemish tapestries*, furniture, paintings, statues on display in 34 decorated rooms is open:
    Tuesday till Sunday from 10 .00 to 20.00 h in April - September; 10.00 to 18.00 h October - March.
    Closed on Monday.
    Price: normal 9 €, reduced 4 € (for details see the website www.patrimonionacional.es) valid 48 h.
    I recommend hiring an audio guide (several languages); a must to understand what is on display.
    Price 4 €.
    The gardens are open each day from 10 h till 1 hour before sunset. Free when the fountains are not working (that is most of the time).

    * The Tapestry Collection (From Brussels and Flanders) of the Spanish Crown is the richest in the world together with that of Vienna.

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    Main façade by Juvarra.

    by breughel Written Jan 18, 2013

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    Main fa��ade by Juvarra.
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    This is a really exceptional combination of architectural and garden beauty. The façade designed by Filippo Juvarra (also designer of the Madrid Palace), adapted and built between 1737 and 1743 by Sacchetti, looking on the parterre and the New Cascade is described as "one of the most admirable examples of late Baroque architecture". I hope my photos will convince VT amateurs of architecture and gardens.
    It's a combination of various styles with a dominant Italian influence. Balconies, windows, columns with Corinthian capitals and pilasters two storey's high, in red sandstone enhanced with Carrara marble sculptures by Baratta.
    Cherry on the cake, this façade opens on the parterre and the New Cascade with fountains, the park, woodlands and in the distance the Guadarrama Mountains with the Penalara at 2430 m (snow in winter).

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    The Horseshoe Courtyard.

    by breughel Updated Jan 18, 2013

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    Horseshoe Courtyard and gate.
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    The large wrought-iron gateway dating from the reign of Felipe V but only installed in 1844 leads to the gardens (free entry most of the time) and to the south-west wing of the Palace called the Patio de la Herradura - The Horseshoe Courtyard.
    This courtyard in the shape of a French Cour d'Honneur is rare in Spain and was intended by King Felipe V (a Bourbon grandson of the French king Louis XIV) as the entrance what explains that the building structures on the left and right of the doorway are staircases; the windows are therefore at different heights. The one on the right led directly to the private room of Felipe V and the queen Isabella Farnese and the one on the left to the rooms of the Infantes.
    The courtyard is a brilliant work of architect Procaccini. It opens now on the nice Parterre of Fame and the fountain of Fame.

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    The Real Palacio.

    by breughel Written Jan 16, 2013

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    One of the two original towers.
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    When arriving at the collegiate church turn right to pass the Casa de Officios (with book and gift shop), then under the Arco de Infantes to reach on the left the entrance to the gardens and the west part of the Royal Palace in U form around the Horseshoe Courtyard.
    The entrance to the gardens is free except the few times the fountains are working. It is therefore possible to make the outside tour of the Real Palacio without having to pay and it is worthwhile. I prefer the Palace of the Granja and its gardens to Versailles. It's nicer because more romantic than Versailles and most of the time much less crowded. But nobody has to share my opinion!

    The Real Palacio is a complicated building. It was extended several times reflecting the progress of Italian taste with architect Procaccini.
    The two square towers (one on my photo) belong to the original smaller palace built by architect Ardemans for King Felipe V. At the centre of the building is the well preserved Fountain Courtyard.

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    Real Colegiata - Collegiate Church.

    by breughel Updated Jan 14, 2013

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    Real Colegiata - Collegiate Church.
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    Passing by the huge trees of the Plaza de Espana one discovers the dome and towers of the Real Colegiata de la Santísima Trinidad - Collegiate Church built in the first half of the sixteenth century as a royal chapel by architect Teodoro Ardemans and later enlarged by Andrea Procaccini.
    Originally it had the goal of being a royal pantheon. The Chapel of the Relics contains the memorial where lie the bodies of King Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese.
    The present decoration is from the reign of Carlos III.
    It is a very nice monument outside and inside. Somewhat surprising is its situation in front of the Palace. The first monumental building appearing when approaching the Royal Seat of La Granja is this church.
    The visit is included in the ticket of the Royal Palace.
    Photos inside are not allowed but the outside is one of the most photographed places of the town of La Granja de San Ildefonso.

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    Casa de los Infantes = Parador

    by breughel Written Jan 13, 2013

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    Casa de los Infantes = Parador
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    One of the most important buildings of the Royal Seat is the Casa de los Infantes dating from 1770 and built by Jose Diaz Gamones in the Baroque style and a classical rectangular shape with three interior patios for the servants of the princess (= Infantes) Don Gabriel and Don Antonio sons of Carlos III.
    This most monumental building located left of the Puerta de Segovia underwent an important reconstruction into a Parador state hotel. It is a big 4* hotel with 125 rooms.
    We staid here. It is somewhat different of other Paradors because if the outside is Baroque the inside is decorated in a contemporary style. This is different from other historical Paradors where the inside décor is in accordance with the history of the building.

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    Plaza de Espana.

    by breughel Written Jan 13, 2013

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    Plaza de Espana.
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    At this plaza one discovers the wonderful combination of the architecture of the Palacio Real y Collegiata (Royal Palace and Collegiate) and superb trees planted in 1877 by the head gardener Antonio Testard. The Spanish firs and the two enormous Sequoias have grown superbly and compete with the spires of the Palace. I don't remember I have seen such a majestic combination elsewhere.

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    Alameda Avenue to the Palace.

    by breughel Written Jan 13, 2013

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    Calle de la Alameda.
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    From the Gate of Segovia the walk by the Alameda Avenue to the Palace is really nice thanks to the monumental royal buildings that appear behind the trees. On the left the Cuartel de Guardias de Corps (Guards' barracks), now transformed in the congress hall of the Parador, from 1764 and on the right the Caballerizas Reales (Royal mews) from 1738.

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