Last Saturday I visited the Palacio Real de El Pardo (the Royal Palace of El Pardo) which is commonly referred to as “El Pardo” here in Spain. The palace is about a 25 minute bus ride from the Moncloa bus station, which I live very close to so it’s a ridiculously easy day trip from Madrid.
King Enrique/Henry III ordered the building of a hunting lodge there in 1406 in the Monte de el Pardo. The location is surrounded by green hills and a forest full of abundant game so it was the ideal place for the Spanish royal family’s hunting excursions. More than a century later, Carlos/Charles V converted the building into a palace, making it more suitable for long-term living.
In March 1604, a fire destroyed most of the palace. In fact, today there is only one room in the entire palace that has remnants of a few paintings predating the 1604 fire. Most of the palace was renovated under the supervision of the architect Francisco Sabatini, hired by King Carlos/Charles III.
The King Alfonso XII (great-grandfather of the current king of Spain Juan Carlos I) died in el Pardo in 1885. Later on, in the 20th century (1939-1975), the palace became the official residence of the “head of state” (I noticed that the tour guide carefully avoided mentioning the word dictator by replacing it with Jefe de Estado) Francisco Franco. Towards the end of the tour, there are a few rooms that include Franco’s private quarters. While Franco was alive, El Pardo became the seat of the Spanish government, much like the White House in the USA. His daughter married in the small chapel on the palace’s grounds and all of his grandchildren were born there. The Franco family did not leave El Pardo until 1976, the year following Franco’s death.
Interestingly, after Franco died, King Juan Carlos refused to use El Pardo as his official residence (despite it having been an official residence of his ancestors) and opted for living in the Zarzuela palace instead.
Today the palace is used as a residence for visiting heads of state and some of the rooms used by the guests were on the tour. I was mostly interested in visiting the palace because Franco had lived there. I probably will eventually write a blog post about him because Spain’s current relationship with its deceased dictator is such a complex one. I don’t know that much about Franco’s rise to power or about the horrors that happened during his regime; I mostly know that many people were unfairly killed–pretty much anyone who opposed him. However, the tour guide didn’t offer much information about Franco’s life. It was all rather matter-of-fact–more along the lines of “This was used as Franco’s office… now let me tell you the history about these paintings on the wall.”
Since you cannot visit the palace without a tour guide, we had some time to kill before the tour started. So we wandered around the gardens for a bit which aren’t very impressive at this time of year. In fact, I didn’t find the palace to be very interesting from the outside. Its architecture struck me as rather modest, considering it used to be used as an official residence by the Spanish king and queen.
Here are some pictures of the gardens that I didn’t find to be that great:
I managed to find pictures of the palace gardens during the summer on Google Images and it looks slightly better without the grass looking so dead:
Inside is a completely different story. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside. But I managed to find some interior shots from Google Images. Many of the rooms we walked through were covered by tapestries. Usually I find tapestries boring but these tapestries seemed like they were sewn directly into the wall–it’s hard to explain. They were not very old tapestries so they weren’t faded. In fact, the majority of them were in pretty good condition and pristine looking.
Part of Franco’s living quarters. Nicole noted that his and his wife’s beds seemed pretty small. I don’t think he was a very tall man.
After visiting the palace and having some lunch at a local restaurant, we visited the small Casita del Principe (the Prince’s Little House), down the street from the palace. It was essentially a small house where the royals liked to seek refuge away from the hustle and bustle of the main palace. There were only a few rooms and there wasn’t that much to see and I ended up not bothering to take any pictures. Across the street, I took some pictures of the small gardens.
It was a rather interesting day trip and if you haven’t already been to El Pardo, I do recommend it. There are hardly any tourists and it can easily be visited on a Saturday afternoon.