Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro
The Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro in Madrid is an urban landscape that has been evolved since the 18th century on the site of the former Buen Retiro palace and gardens.
The property includes the Retiro Park, the boulevard Paseo del Prado and the neighbourhood in between. Among the most significant buildings are the Royal Studio of Natural History (today the Prado Museum), the Palacio Cibeles, and the Atocha railway station.
Map of Paseo del Prado and Buen RetiroLoad map
I make my Life in Madrid, so I know this world heritage site very well. I followed Its inscription closely and I was convinced It was going to be deferred. For better or worse It got accepted.
The sites essentially consista of two components: the retiro and the paseo del Prado, with the barrio de los jeronimos acting as a Bridge between the two.
Let's start with the Paseo del Prado. In It's review Icomos isn't as harsh as one might think. The prado avenue IS widely regarded as the first "alameda", a tree lined avenue of public use typical in hispanic cities. The integrity is questionable (alameda means poplar forest and there are no poplars left) but the general idea is still there and Icomos brought the concept as I personally do too.
Furthermore, as the name implies, this area was chosen by Charles III to build a space for arts and sciences. As a quick note, this project played an important role in the introduction of neoclasicism in Spain. Some of the institutions founded still mantain their scientific or artistic use. Probably the most true to It's original value is the botanical garden, which tbh IS small and not overly impressive, but It's quite historically relevant, given its many conections with latin America. It's at It's core what the site would like to be...and isn't. most sites here are relics of the past. They changed functions long ago, though their unimpressive and common neoclasical architecture can still be seen. The prado museum was to be of natural sciences in origin and the observatory is no longer in use. As such the connection and especially the relevance of this project IS subject to interpretation. Clearly a European project focused on building artistic and scientific institutions isn't unique and imho It's better represented in the museeninsel in Berlin.
Then there's the retiro which Icomos considered little more than a glorified urban park. Madrid has certainly gone to great extenses to include it in the proposal.
Apart from any OUV this site might have, It's undeniable It's worth a visit. This property houses one of the most impressive art collections in the world. The prado, the reina Sofía and the Thyssen are all world class museums. The paseo del Prado is peppered with interesting buildings, like the eclectic city hall and the atocha station.
You are the first I dare to tell a secret to: I prefer Madrid to Barcelona! Therefore, I gave relatively very high rating to this Prado/Buen Retiro "double" site.
I visited Madrid two times for a weekend trip (in 2004 and 2011), and I take Madrid, together with Berlin, as an epitome of modern European capital. Well, the historical core with Plaza Mayor is quite nice but nothing special. However, Madrid I like starts at Puerta del Sol: then follow Calle de Alcala or (via a short detour) Gran Via, both flanked by monumental buildings, and you enter the core zone of this WHS, which has been already described by others, and I guess that almost everybody has heard already about Prado museum. Somebody can have an objection that only some museums with a boring park have been inscribed. I would oppose that I appreciated the qualities of this site even without an urge to enter any building. From the museums, I visited only Reina Sofia during my first visit, and it, of course, does not contribute to the OUV. I would oppose even the suggestion of ICOMOS to cut this site into two pieces: the avenue and the park. It does not make a sense to me, and I like the site as it has been inscribed.
All in all, this is not an absolute world-class, but it has its place on the list and I can understand its OUV.
(PHOTO - Atocha railway station)
April 2017 - at the end of our honeymoon trip through Andaluzia we took the train to Madrid and flew back from there. It was the same price as flying back from Sevilla directly. The Renfe entered Madrid early in the morning, we stored our baggage at the train station and took a long walk along the Prado and through the Retiro park. It was marathon that day so in the Park we could spot some athletes who either were done or gave up early. The park is nice, it has a giant lake, a wonderful greenhouse and some representative building, but I guess it is comparable to other city parks in Europe. We enjoyed way more Madrids early skyscrapers, the castle and our last tapas for that trip. Happy we visited another European capital, though.
Madrid is certainly the most prominent member of the club "European capitals without World Heritage Site". Spain is densely covered with WHS, almost every region and island has at least one site inscribed, but the capital has so far been left empty-handed. And after my three-day stay in Madrid I would say: rightly so. However, the Spanish authorities seem to disagree and nominated the Site of the Retiro and the Prado for decision at the WHC in 2020, postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
For centuries, the proposed area was outside the city walls, today it is the green heart of Madrid. The Parque del Buen Retiro emerged from the grounds of the Buen Retiro Palace built by the Habsburg dynasty. The palace was destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars and never rebuilt, in the 19th century the gardens were opened to the public. The rectangular artificial lake is the centre of El Retiro and also one of only a few remains from the time of the royal palace. I liked the Palacio de Cristal best (photo), it reminded me of the wonderful greenhouses at Kew Gardens in London. But in Madrid are no plants on display; the building is used for temporary art exhibitions.
The park is very popular with the residents of Madrid, for sports and sunbathing, there are row boats for hire and playgrounds for the kids - a typical city park. It was quite busy when I visited on a hot Sunday morning in May 2019.
The Paseo del Prado in its present form is the result of urban planning in the 18th century, when the Bourbones wanted to modernise Madrid. Paris was probably the inspiration. So a wide boulevard was built with rows of trees. At first there were only a few palacios and decorative fountains along the Prado, but over the decades more buildings were added. Previous reviewers highlighted the Palacio de Cibeles (this eclectic style is not my cup of tea) and the Atocha Railway Station (lovely with the tropical garden under the historic glass roof).
The main attraction, however, is the Golden Triangle of Art, three famous art museums close to each other. I purchased a Paseo del Arte Card online: admission to the three museums for 30 Euros and valid for one year, very convenient (but you still have to queue at the Museo del Prado).
Whenever possible, great museums are on my travel plan. However, on a short stay it is hardly possible to visit these three collections in their entirety. So it is best to focus on the highlights. In the Museo del Prado these are the three Spanish masters El Greco, Velàzquez and Goya. All three are represented with extensive collections. Las Meninas by Velàzquez is probably the most famous painting in the Prado, at least it is one of the most discussed works in art history. And you can meet the artist in person, a Velàzquez statue stands (or rather sits) in front of the museum.
The focus at the Museo Reina Sofía is Spanish art in the 20th century, most importantly Picasso, Dalí, Miró. The main exhibit is Picasso's Guernica, the only time I saw more museum visitors in one room was in front of the Mona Lisa. The museum guards are a bit anoying, they meticulously ensure that no one takes a photo.
Finally, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, in my opinion the least rewarding museum of the triangle. A walk through the museum is like a course in 800 years of art history. Every style and every renowned artist is represented, but no real highlight. The museum has its strengths where the other two have gaps, French impressionists for example.
Madrid is a great city. It is worth a visit and you can spend some enjoyable days there.
But there is nothing I would like to see inscribed on the WH list. Neither the cathedral nor the royal palace, not the historic city center and not the architecture of the Gran Via. None of these meets the criteria of outstanding universal value in my opinion. And that also applies to this tentative site.
So what is this proposal about? Three famous museums, a boulevard and a park. The museums don’t really count, the collections are movable and thus do not contribute to the OUV. And the palacios in which they are located are not outstanding. Same with Retiro Park, pretty, but nothing special.
Thus, a thumbs down from me. Not every capital needs to have a World Heritage Site.
I've been to Madrid many times over the years and on each occasion I take time to walk the length of Paseo del Prado from Plaza de Cibeles to the Atocha train station. It must be one of the most visually attractive boulevards in all of Europe. It is home to exceptional art museums, magnificent architecture, and plenty of things to catch your eye.
The stunning Palacio de Cibeles is one of the iconic sights of Madrid; the grandiose architecture is curiously discordant with the building's original unglamorous purpose as the headquarters of the Spanish Postal Service. Definitely step in to admire its Art Deco interior and ascend to the mirador for great views over the city. The other "bookend" of this stretch, Atocha, is one of the great European train stations, also worth an extended look. Museo del Prado is among the greatest art museums in the world, worth the price of admission just for its collection of Goya and Velasquez, not to mention its other many treasures. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza offers another superb art collection. And Museo Reina Sofía is primarily famous for exhibiting Picasso's Guernica, but if you are into modern art, you will find a lot of other works of value in its collection.
These are just the most obvious points of interest, but there are also eye-catching fountains, a beautiful botanic garden, and several other striking specimens of Art Deco. Puerta de Alcalá, a couple of blocks off Paseo del Prado at the corner of Parque del Retiro, is the oldest post-Roman triumphal arch in Europe, also worth a close look.
The Retiro park is, of course, a key part of this tentative WH site itself. It has everything one might expect from a major public green space inside a large city, and more: plenty of serene pathways, plenty of monuments and statuary, occasional grand architectural features, a pleasure lake, playgrounds, and other diversions. On a sunny weekend afternoon, you may feel as if all of Madrid has gathered here.
Madrid is among my favorite cities, one of the most monumental and impressive capitals of the world. That is due in no small part to the sights of Prado and Retiro. The WH property will get 4 stars from me when inscribed.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
There are 3 world class museums on the Paseo del Prado which form an integral part of this property. Referred to as the "Golden Triangle of Art" these museums are vast collections of priceless works spanning nearly a millennia of artistic creations.
Each museum holds icons of European art, unquestionably. One of the foremost is Guernica by Pablo Picasso. There are countless other masterpieces worth noting by Dali, Goya, Bosch, Dürer, and El Greco. Cumulatively these 3 museums take in about 7-8 million visitors per year. Each building has its own history as well, the Prado opened its doors in 1819. Reina Sofia is located in the former General Hospital of Madrid which was built in the late 18th century. The Thyssen-Bornemisza was previously known as Villahermosa Palace.
Museo del Prado - Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
The second key component of this property is Parque del Buen Retiro. This public park, with a royal background is about 40% of the size of Central Park in New York. Within the park are the Velázquez Palace and Palacio de Cristal, which now are primarily used for art installations. The Monument to King Alfonso XII (pictured) is quite stunning in its location overlooking the gorgeous artificial pond. The park is utilized well by the people of Madrid. At any given moment, you will see picnickers, joggers, walkers, and lovers. I was fortunate to stay only 15 minutes from the park and I thoroughly enjoyed my walks here in the morning and at dusk.
There are other important sites worth mentioning, but the special one for me is the City Hall, which also houses a cultural centre called CentroCentro (formerly known as Palacio de Cibeles). The terrace on the rooftop is an ideal place to grab a drink and enjoy the many delights of Madrid.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
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2021 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Deferral and focus on Paseo del Prado alone
Formerly on T List as Madrid - Prado Museum + Botanical Garden (1995)
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