The magnificent gardens of Aranjuez

Aranjuez is only about thirty miles south of Madrid, in a beautiful landscape that has fostered the development of this 60000-inhabitant city.  Here meet the Tajo, the longest river in the peninsula, and the Jarama, its affluent. This stream has shaped for thousands of years the landscape of the palace that the royal family chose to use as a vacation home, a source of food and a place for gardening experiments. All at the same time!

A place for rest and experiments

A temple on a pond surrounded by vegetation

A temple on a pond in Aranjuez. | Shutterstock

We can’t go to Aranjuez without paying a visit to the Tajo. A rich vegetation surrounds the river banks, and the wide groves and riverside woods beautifully thread the setting. The presence of the river made it possible to take advantage of the vast supply of water and this way create such a peculiar scene around it. In addition, they developed a powerful irrigation system that laid the foundation for its famous historical gardens.

The Catholic Monarchs of Spain already sensed in the 15th century that this land was of great value, so they annexed it to the crown. It was Philip II who insisted Aranjuez should be up to royal standards, and he even took active part in the process of designing this city that bloomed around the river. Being Philip II a garden enthusiast, many trees were planted there and they also created the first known botanical garden in Europe.

In this garden not only did they grow native species, but they also placed special interest in the species brought from America. This way, plants from all over the world grew there in the 16th century, making it possible to test their ability to survive far from the natural environment.

Historical gardens

A view from above of the impressive building of Aranjuez, surrounded by gardens

Aranjuez. | Shutterstock

Aranjuez keeps its original frame, with a large square crossed by twelve paths. One of them leads us directly to those delightful gardens, which are perfect for strollers… and for those who wish to buy fresh products. The most popular one is perhaps the garden of Picotajo, right at the confluence of the Tajo and the Jarama. However, the favorite gardens of Charles III of Spain were known as Los Cortijos. The king ordered to grow there plants from all over the kingdom.

These gardens have offered a wide variety of products, feeding the people and the royal family for centuries. Thanks to its mild climate, convenient location and wide meadow between the two rivers, the quality of Aranjuez’s products has always been exceptional. Moreover, the gardens also served as a place to experiment with the products brought from America; hence, apart from feeding the people, they were also useful for agricultural research. Indeed, this was the first place where they tried to grow pineapple in Spain.

Considering all this, it makes sense that the kings and queens of Spain chose Aranjuez as their summer residence for years, especially at the time when Philip II reigned in “the empire where the sun never sets”. It also makes sense that, in 2001, UNESCO declared Aranjuez a World Heritage Site.

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