Aranjuez Cultural Landscape is a series of intermeshed water, garden, agricultural and constructed landscapes at a strategic royal location.
It includes the Palace, the Island Garden, the Great Historic Garden, the urban area and the Prince's Garden. The Royal Palace was commissioned by King Philip II in the 16th century as a private country palace. Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, who also designed El Escorial, were the architects. Extensive waterworks were used to both irrigate and protect the moist soil and turn this swamp into a Garden of Eden.
The site was further enlarged in the 18th century. A new, planned city and road system was built using geometric principles, with lines of trees as one of the most prominent characteristics. Its huge gardens, built to relieve its royal residents from the dust and drought of the Spanish Meseta using the waters of the adjacent Tagus and Jarama rivers, are Spain's most important of the Habsburg period.
Map of AranjuezLoad map
'Die schönen Tage in Aranjuez sind nun zu Ende.' The drama Don Carlos by Friedrich Schiller starts with these words. I am not sure whether Schiller is historically correct when describing the reign of Philip II in his play. Correct is that Philip II declared Aranjuez a 'Real Sitio' in 1560, and that he commissioned the construction of the Palacio Real in the same year. My impression was also that the best days for Aranjuez are gone when I visited the site in May 2019. But not because the palace and gardens were in bad condition (on the contrary, everything was nice and well maintained). It was rather because the area around the palace was almost deserted on that weekday morning.
Castles and palaces are not my favourite world heritage sites. But there are a few exceptions on the list where I was pleasantly surprised. Aranjuez, however, was not one of them. The interiors are more or less the same sequence of rooms as in other European palaces, and similarly boring. Only two rooms are exceptional: the Porcelain Room, which is entirely covered with porcelain reliefs, and the room with 200 small Chinese paintings on rice paper, depicting rural life right next to torture scenes.
The Palacio Real impresses mainly by its size. In the 18th century two side wings were added and the whole complex was converted into a Baroque palace. My photo is the view of the palace from the south, from the Plaza de Parejas. On the right is the Casa de Oficios y Caballeros, an auxiliary building of the palace, nice with porticoes all around.
The Aranjuez Cultural Landscape comprises extensive parks and ornamental gardens around the palace. And that was the best part of my visit. Apparently, the Spanish monarchs had a fondness for water features. Between the tall trees are numerous stone and marble fountains with scenes from Greek mythology, for example one with Bacchus sitting on a barrel. You can find this and many other fountains in the Jardin de la Isla. The island was created when an artificial branch of the Tagus River was channelled directly past the palace. It is the most interesting of the gardens. However, I did not see anything in Aranjuez that I had not already seen elsewhere.
The city centre of Aranjuez is also part of the World Heritage Site. It is a planned city built in the middle of the 18th century. Before then, the right to live in Aranjuez was restricted to members of the royal court. The city map has a symmetrical layout like a chessboard, but apart from that there is nothing remarkable. Walking through the streets, I did not have the feeling of visiting a world heritage town.
All in all, Aranjuez was the least exciting WHS on my trip through central Spain.
I love gardens, so I was rather excited to choose Aranjuez Cultural Landscape as the first central Iberian World Heritage Site to visit after I arrived in Madrid for a long weekend last May. In truth, the gardens were not as impressive as others I have visited, but I did appreciate the laidback atmosphere of this suburb that began as a royal estate in the 16th century. After arriving in town, I started my tour indoors with the palace, so as to avoid a passing rain shower. The palace had many fine rooms, but since I came to Aranjuez to view the gardens, as soon as the skies brightened I was back outside. The gardens next to the palace were beautiful, however I was slightly let down by the Island Garden, which was not as well upkept as I thought it might be. I did find the water canals within the garden curious, since they reminded me of those irrigating Al Ain Oasis in UAE. It was the weir on the Tagus next to the palace that I found most fascinating, though (as noted by other reviewers). After getting a quick lunch, I strolled around the Prince's Garden, which was far more relaxing to me. I loved walking on the pathways that bordered the Tagus River, and took time to rest and read on a bench overlooking a Chinese garden further inside the park. Aranjuez made for a pleasant introduction to central Spain, and was definitely worth touring before visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid, whose residence and gardens I was more impressed with when I visited later that trip.
Logistics: Aranjuez is about an hour away from Madrid and can be reached regularly by commuter train; the rail station in Aranjuez is a few blocks from the palace and the center of town.
When I looked at the list of all World Heritage Sites around Madrid, Aranjuez was the least interesting site in my initial opinion; however, after visited the place, it became the second least interesting site since Alcala de Hanares won the position. Since I already saw the Royal Palace in Madrid twice including its grand royal park couple of month ago, I was not happy to have a trip just to see another Spanish royal palace, so pairing it with Cuenca was a good idea.
From Madrid I drove to Aranjuez, the city was quite lovely with many greens and fine houses, some kind of prosperous neighborhood, but when I reach city center, the view of ideal royal city welcomed me with grand scale, Grand palace on the right, French landscape gardens on the left and large square with beautiful San Antonio de Padua Church at the far end in the middle. I drove into a small alley next to palace complex, the buildings, pavement, trees were all stately and beautiful design, however those large open spaces in front of the church and next to the palace with few people around made the city a bit desert and lifeless and the area in front of the palace were shockingly rundown with shabby gardens and abandoned and ruined buildings. I toured the interior of the Aranjuez Palace, as other reviews mentioned, certain rooms especially the Moorish room and porcelain room were quite stunning and the display of royal gowns of Spanish queens and princesses for the coronation and weddings were really impressive. After the palace I visited the royal garden, I really enjoyed the lovely cascade of the river despite of some maintenance works obscured the view. The garden overall was fine but in my opinion a bit shabby luckily I found a group of peacocks which saved the grace of this royal garden. I planned to visit other nearby UNESCO listed royal palaces and gardens, but after saw Aranjuez Palace, I already lost my appetite, so I decided to end my time in Aranjuez and continued to Cuenca.
All in all, I did not find any special with this World Heritage Site, the site was quite typical in term of European royal palace which tried to imitate Versailles. I also found that the gardens which should be the main attribute of the cultural landscape status was quite disappointing, although its shabbiness maybe Spanish garden characteristic as I saw similar situation at other parks in Madrid few days later. The only thing I found interesting was the river management by small dam and cascade at the entrance of the royal garden behind the palace which was quite impressive, but maybe not enough to win my heart for its Outstanding Universal Value.
Previous reviews left me not expecting much from Aranjuez. However, when the sky is perfectly blue, the gardens are a lush green, and my only alternative was to join my wife shopping? Aranjuez turned out to be a delightful couple hours! Originally, I did not even include this WHS in my itinerary, since Segovia and El Escorial were my primary focus. Nevertheless, the train was simple, affordable, and the weather was superb (though hot).
I spent most of my time exploring the gardens, which really are quite extensive. There are so many small treasures to be found, from playful fountains, to an aviary, and even a "Chinese" pond. Overall, I am pleased I made the trip.
The cultural landscape pull of this world heritage site makes it unique enough. To summarize, the water landscape (rivers, ponds, dams, ditches), the agricultural landscape (orchards and nurseries, stock-breeding farms, meadows), and the landscape for leisure (ornamental gardens) all make up a rich component to Aranjuez that is best appreciated in beautiful weather.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
My expectations for Aranjuez were not too high - another royal palace close to a big capital -, but it's very easy to reach by commuter rail from Madrid, and the palace was actually quite interesting and well-presented (especially the Porcelain Room). I then went for a walk through the surrounding parks along the Tejo River, which feature many different fountains. It was an enjoyable half-day excursion, but as mentioned in other reviews, the site does not add a lot of new value to the WH list, as evidenced by the fact that Spain had to use the trick/work-around with the cultural landscape to get this site inscribed.
I visited this WHS in June 2015. This is one of many other WHS made up of gardens and palaces and it certainly isn't one of Europe's best. It's location helps it a great deal as it is a pleasant half day trip from Madrid or Toledo. However, I very much prefered the Escurial's interior although much more crowded. The highlights of my visit were the Island Garden and the Prince's Garden. That said, I felt that they offered no real OUV but more of a pleasant rest in the shade in what should be considered more of a national heritage site.
Strapping on my camera and backpack I did my duty and after a short hop on the commuter train from Madrid I landed at yet another European Royal Palace complex.
First stop the palace; fortunately I was able to whizz around in about 20 minutes. There are so many palaces like this on the list it is tough to find things that differentiate them, fortunately the interior here was so ghastly it left an impression. The Arabian Room did a fantastic job of mimicking the heights of mudejar design and then ruining it by colouring them in like an 8 year old and the Porcelain room was so horrifically over the top you couldn’t help but be impressed. The whole time I was walking around I kept on being reminded of the taste of Hyacinth Bucket (sorry that may be a slightly niche reference).
Happy to escape the interior I ventured to the gardens, and I must admit I was pretty impressed. The Island Garden was actually a really pleasant place to wander around. The carpet of autumn leaves did add to the joy of strolling around, crunching from one little fountain to the next. In fact I would say it was one of the nicest palace gardens I have been to.
The advisory body report states that the historic centre of the town may “well have been considered for World Heritage status in its own right”. I think that is a little generous, I would probably award it the accolade of “third most interesting terminus of Madrid’s commuter trains (of those that I have so far visited, of which there are currently 3)”. It was pleasant enough but rather lacking in life, though I did enjoy watching two priests play football on one of the squares.
Despite my slightly disparaging remarks Aranjuez was actually a nice break from Madrid, the regular trains made it an easy hop from the tapas bars and galleries of the Spanish capital and the planned gardens were actually some of the nicest I have visited. I would put it as the lowest priority of all the sites around Madrid, though if you want a quiet half day strolling around some lovely gardens then join the madrileños in heading to Aranjuez.
[Site 4: Experience 4]
The AB evaluation of Aranjuez comes with a warning: we already have allowed 8 European Royal Palaces and their gardens on the List, this should be sufficient! The Spanish however were clever enough to propose this site as a Cultural Landscape, where the palace comes in as a side note. I found the nomination file very impressive; it does a good job of explaining the history of the manmade landscape, where the use of irrigation and dams has turned a swamp into a green oasis. It also emphasizes the importance of the parks for botany, as Philip II was an early collector of American and Asian tree species.
Except for a minor round around Aranjuez town to look for a restaurant (where I landed at the recommended La Venta for a 10 EUR 3-course Menu del Dia), I limited my visit to the palace and its gardens. I started with a stroll through the Island Garden, which is decorated with many objects including a number of statues of ancient gods. This is also where the waterworks can be seen, these include dams, canals, and bridges. And it displays the tree-lined paths that characterize Aranjuez.
Suddenly it started to rain a little, so I decided to check out the interior of the palace too. Whenever I visit palaces these days, Ian Cade's quote "palaces bore me rigid" directly comes to my mind. And yes, I too have shuffled from one boring room to the other in many palaces around the world. But I had some good experiences too lately, for example in Fontainebleau. I was lucky again now, as I was about the only visitor around. I paid for the audioguide, where the talks were informative and not too long. The number of rooms that it includes also is not too overwhelming. Among them are 3 that really stand out: the yellow rococo Grand Dining Hall, the Arabian Room and the unbelievable Porcelain Room where porcelain objects have been nailed to all walls.
On my final morning in Aranjuez, I visited the biggest garden, the Prince's Garden. This felt much more like a city park to me. It is very large and is used by joggers and local elderly going for a walk. Its strongest point is the high number of different tree species. It has less ornamentation than the Island Garden. The park ends at the Casa del Labrador, a small neoclassical palace that is also used by the Spanish royals.
I visited the royal palace at Aranjuez on my first day in Spain after an overnight flight from Montreal to Madrid. It was my first WHS in Europe. The train ride from Madrid to Aranjuez was less than an hour and it makes a perfect half-day trip from Madrid. The palace has many rooms; the one that stands out the most in my memory is the Alhambra-inspired one. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. However, they are allowed at the gorgeous garden nearby. The palace is no comparison to similar sites I visited later on my trip such as El Escorial but it's worth an afternoon nonetheless. I would suggest visiting this site first before the other WHS near Madrid in order to evade disappointment.
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