Located on a fertile plain washed by the Tajo and Jarama rivers, around 50 km south of Madrid in the town of Aranjuez, Palacio Real de Aranjuez or the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, surrounded by a total of 111.23 hectares of gardens, had been once the country residence of the Spanish Kings and Queens. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, as a part of the Aranjuez Cultural Landscape, every nook and corner of the huge palace is filled with history and aesthetic beauty.
Constructed on the site of the former palace of the Masters of Santiago, the palace displays a wide variety of styles, as it was commissioned by Philip II of Spain in the 16th-century, when he moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid and continued until it reached its full development in the 18th-century under Charles III.
Since the Reconquista, the long series of battles marked by Christian re-conquest of Christian territory that had been seized by the Muslim kingdoms, Aranjuez had been the property of the Order of Santiago, who had a palace there. At the end of the 15th-century, during Queen Isabella's reign over a dynastically united Spain, jointly with her husband, the position of the Grand Master of the Order was permanently incorporated into the monarch's role.
After that, the history of the site of palace royal began in the 16th-century began when the Order of Santiago Grandmaster Lorenzo I Suarez de Figueroa ordered to construct a grand hunting lodge, which still exists. Later, Charles V, the head of the rising House of Habsburg and the King of Spain from 1516 to 1556, had the vision to build a great Italian type of villa there, which remained unfulfilled during his lifetime. However, after he died in 1558, his son Philip II intended to materialize the vision of his father and commissioned Juan Bautista de Toledo to design a new building to replace the royal hunting lodge of Aranjuez, which eventually preceded the current royal palace.
Construction of the first palace began in an adjacent plot south of the river under the direction of Juan de Minjares, and when Philip II died in 1598, construction of the south tower was completed that housed the chapel and a large part of the façade of midday and west. However, a subsequent economic and political crisis and the fall of the royal House of Habsburg resulted in the suspension of the project until 1700, when Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain, decided to resume the suspended project. He intended to make the palace a suitable rival to the Palace of Versailles, and besides the new gardens he also added anew north tower, completed the west façade, which defined the structure and would shape the current palace.
Unfortunately, the rarely used palace was almost destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1748. Nevertheless, it was rebuilt in the prevailing late baroque style by Ferdinand VI, complete with an imposing exterior, along with a sumptuously furnished interior.
While the most distinctive feature of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez is the predominance of white and red on its façade, adorned with the statues of the three kings who played a role in its construction, the present look of the palace is the result of the modifications made by Charles III, who designed the two west wings framing the central courtyard and added a large parade ground. However, the overall exterior and interior decorations were hugely enriched in the 18th and 19th centuries. As Ferdinand VII and Isabella II regularly visited Aranjuez during the spring, the regal spendour of the Royal Site de Aranjuez remained stable until 1868.
The interior decoration of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez,which includes the Rococo staircase and balustrade, along with the Official Halls that form part of the public visit, is mainly from the Bourbon period. While the lobby is decorated with sculptures, there are three busts inside alcoves on the top floor representing King Louis XIV of France, his wife Maria Theresa of Spain, and their son Louis, the Grand Dauphin, carved by the French sculpture Antoine Coysevox in 1683. All the Official Halls are richly decorated, among which some are worth mentioning. The recessed dome of Salón del Trono or the Throne Room is decorated in Pompeian style depicting the royal crown representing the monarchy, supported by the figures of Venus and industry. It is flanked by Arts on the right and, Abundance and Prudence on the left. Tocador de la Reina or the Queen’s Boudoir is of Palo santo wood, with mirrors on both sides and a chair with mother of pearl and gold inlay. While the walls of the room are covered with silk curtains, the furniture belonged to Isabella II, and the vault is painted with representations of the seasons. The dome of Dormitorio de la Reina or the Queen’s Bedroom is decorated with tempera frescoes depicting allegories of Science, Virtue, Art, Law, and Monarchy, and the centerpiece is the bed of Isabella II, a gift of the City of Barcelona to the Queen during her marriage to Francis of Asissi of Bourbon. The walls of Salón de espejos or the Mirror Room, decorated completely with mirrors, and the ceiling frescoed in Pompeian style was used by King Charles IV as a dressing room. While Salón de baile or the Ball Room served as a dividing hall between the private rooms of King and Queen, Comedor de gala or the Gala Dining Room was commissioned by King Ferdinand VI in the 18th century as a Conversation Room and was also used occasionally as a ballroom.
However, the decorations of three other Royal Halls are somewhat different from the others. Salón árabe or the Moorish Room, made for Isabella II between 1847 and 1851, is decorated with a Moorish fantasy, and its furniture consists of a porcelain central table and a bronze and crystal lamp. Sala China contains a collection of two hundred and three small paintings made with ink on rice paper and depicting scenes from the court, parties, theater, animals, and others, which were gifted to Queen Isabella II by the Emperor of China. But perhaps the most exquisite of all is the Gabinete de Porcelana or the Porcelain Room, commissioned by Charles III, initially adjoining the King’s Office. Its walls and ceiling are completely lined with plaques of porcelain and reliefs with Rococo decoration of Chinoiserie motifs, like garlands of flowers, fruits, monkeys, vases, mandarins, parrots, samurais, birds, and dragons, created by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Gricci between 1760 and 1765. While the floor is marble, eight large mirrors against the walls multiply the effect of the decorations.
The entire area covering Palacio Real de Aranjuez with its gardens and the associated buildings was declared an Artistic Historical Monument and opened to the public in 1931, but private photography of its interior is prohibited for security reasons.