The Retiro Park was created as a royal park; it belonged to the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro palace. The palace was built in 1632 by King Philips IV as a retreat for the Royal family. Of the original palace, only two buildings have survived, the rest was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. One of the remaining buildings houses the Museo del Ejército, an army museum. The museum covers Spain’s military history. It contains a nice collection of armour. The most important item in the collection is the sword of El Cid or La Tizona. Not really weaponry, but another notable item on display is the cross that Columbus took with him to the New World. The other surviving building is the Casón del Buen Retiro, a museum with a collection of 19th and 20th century paintings, including works by Joaquín Sorolla.

In the 17th century the park was well outside the city walls, but now Madrid has completely enclosed the Retiro park and become an important part of the life of the people of Madrid.

On Sunday mornings in particular you’ll see Madrileños leaving their Madrid apartments and enjoying their leisure time with some wandering around before their ‘aperitivo’ (pre-lunchtime drink), others jogging or some reading the paper on benches or in a café. Many visitors take the opportunity to leave their rented Madrid accommodation and soak up the sunshine in the park.

Close to the northern entrance of the Parque del Retiro is a large artificial lake, the Estanque del Retiro. Here you can rent a rowing boat, especially popular during weekends. A large monument with an equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII overlooks the lake.

More to the south is another, much smaller lake. At the edge is a beautiful glass building, the Palacio de Cristal. Built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco after the Crystal Palace in London, it was initially used to house exotic plants brought over from the Philippines. It is now mainly used for temporary exhibitions.

One of the most remarkable features of the park is the statue of El Angel Caído (the fallen angel). This dedication to Satan is possibly the only statue of its kind in Europe.

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