Great Core Heritages

Castles, palaces and monasteries are an added attraction to a visit to the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park.

Monasterio de El PaularThe natural barrier the Sierra de Guadarrama establishes and the unquestionable beauty of its landscapes have been determinant values without any doubt for Kings, aristocracy, and clergy to choose those mountains to build impressive and relevant constructions, such as defensive fortresses, monasteries or churches.

Today, those great core heritages suppose an attractive added value for the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park visit, being a perfect backdrop landscape for those cultural scenarios.

{tab El Paular Monastery}

Nuestra Señora de Santa María de El Paular Royal Monastery (Rascafría)

The history of that monastery might be grouped on three main periods: El Paular-Carthusian Monastery (Cartuja) (1390-1835), El Paular disentailed (1835-1954) and El Paular recovered for monastic life (1954-nowadays).

The Santa María de El Paular Carthusian Monastery (Cartuja de Santa María de El Paular) foundation is dated in 1390. The Trastámara Royal House (Casa de Trastámara) granted major privileges and funded the construction expenses during all their reign. Juan II started the first Castilian Carthusian Monastery construction, where laid some hunting palaces mentioned in the Falconry Book (Libro de la Cetrería) written by Alfonso X, and a chapel called Santa María del Pobolar. This way was raised the first Castilian Carthusian Monastery and the sixth of the Spanish Carthusian foundations.

El Monasterio de El Paular desde el Puente del PerdónDuring four centuries and a half, El Paular was one of the best endowed Carthusian Monasteries, but in 1835 the Disentailment Law (Ley de Desamortización) ended up with the monastery cultural and economical golden age, supposing the spread of part of the archive, the library, the pictures gallery and other belongings.

El Paular was granted in usufruct to the Benedictine Order on December 31st 1948 “with the purpose of installing an Abbey, a vocations College and a Central House of priesthood education for Spain and overseas territories: Chile, Philippines Islands and Australia”. That community arrived in 1954, coming from the Valbanera Monastery. Today, El Paular lodges a small number of Benedictine monks, living a monastic life following the Rule of St. Benedict: liturgical life, manual and intellectual work, hosts reception, numerous visitors escort and guide and the pastoral attention to the sacramental events hold in the Monastery Church.

The Carthusian Monastery construction, participated by reputed architects like Juan Güas or Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, was considerably prolonged. That is why gothic, baroque and renaissance elements are present. The monastery ensemble has an irregular perimeter base formed by several differentiated groups: the monks’ cloister, original monastery nucleus holding around the cells; the church situated at the cloister northeast side; the royal apartments and the monks’ area, both located in the south angle completing the ensemble with different patios and dependencies.

The church has just one nave divided in three sections. At the end of the first one there is an extraordinary polychrome and forge grille from the end of the 15th century, made by the Carthusian monk, Francisco de Salamanca. Concerning the church decoration we should emphasize the gothic alabaster altarpiece from the end of the 15th century, showing with great detail and thoroughness different Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary life scenes. Recently it has been magnificently restored and cleaned by the Ministry of Education Historic Heritage Institute (Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico del Ministerio de Educación y Cultura), allowing the altarpiece 15th century and other previous restorations colors recovery.

The “Carduccios”

The flamboyant gothic style monastery major cloister, hold in its four galleries the Carthusian monks cells, prepared for study and seclusion. To decorate the interior cloister walls, the Venetian painter Vincencio Carduccio painted in the 17th century, by requirement of the Prior Juan de Beza, a set of large paintings related to St. Bruno de Colonia life, founder of the Carthusian Order and its history.

The marvelous pictorial ensemble, reference of the baroque and history painting, left El Paular with the 1835 Disentailment Law, arriving to Madrid. After its stay at La Trinidad Convent, that pictures ensemble ceased to be grouped and was spread all over different places in Spain, such as La Coruña where they gave name to a room of the Municipal Museum. Some years later, the Prado Museum, took care of that piece of art, and after being controlled and documented was distributed in other Spanish museums.

The 52 large format paintings have returned in 2011 to their original emplacement, at El Paular Monastery, to the same spaces they used for 200 years.

Those paintings return is part of the whole large and thoroughness Monastery restoration process, where the Cloister rehabilitation has been the previous step. This cloister recovery, in charge of the Ministry of Education and Culture, has included the appropriate air-conditioning and drainage systems, and the adequate lighting effects, preparing an exceptional reception for that relevant masterpiece.

As important as the space preparation at El Paular, have been the over 10 working years of the thoroughness restoration process directed by the Head of the Prado Museum “Spanish painting up to 1700” Department.

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Manzanares El Real New Castle

At the foot of La Pedriza, on a small hill and close to the Santillana reservoir, raises the Mendoza’s Castle, medieval fortress-palace, with several cylindrical towers. The construction started at the end of the 15th century, by the initiative of the first Duke of El Infantado, Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, and ended in times of his son Don Iñigo, second Duke of El Infantado.

The new fortress raised on the space where a chapel devoted to Santa María de la Nava lay. From its vestiges, the Romanesque-Mudejar apse was incorporated to the fortress, and at the same time was built the new apse for the fortress chapel.

All the construction is based on granite walls, mainly masonry, even if the carved stone is used on many occasions, like in the entrance arches draw up, the hollows framing, the façade finish touch, and the walls decoration.

Castillo de ManzanaresThe castle has a principal square structure with cylindrical towers in three of its angles, and in the fourth at the southeast the homage tower, larger and square. A second smaller structure attached at the oriental side lodges the chapel. All the ensemble is surrounded by a defensive barbican with a battlement walk way. The walls and the barbican loopholes are decorated with the Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre Cross (La Cruz Del Santo Sepulcro de Jerusalén), used by Don Pedro de Mendoza (Don Diego’s brother) since he became Cardinal, in July 1478. This information has been key to determine and document the Castle construction date, certainly made in a major basis after 1478, with a high influence of the Great Cardinal, even being his brother estate.

After crossing the rampart, the castle entrance is located at the façade beside the homage tower. It shows a stone slightly pointed masonry arch.

The inner space is organized around a rectangular internal patio with two overlapping galleries, as a cloister manner, where the different dependencies overlook. The arches composing the galleries break the fortress monolithic stony appearance, conferring the castle a palace character rather than a warlike. The Spanish Elizabethan Gothic style characteristic stone balls crowning the gallery and decorating the cornice also contribute to enhance the castle courtier character.

The castle was declared Historic Artistic Monument (Monumento Histórico Artístico) in 1931, and hosted in 1983 the signature of the Autonomy Statute of the Madrid Autonomous Community.

Old Castle

It is located on a small hill, at the west side of the old town, crossing the Manzanares River, just in front of the New Castle, on the opposite side of the village.

There are no documents about its origin, but it is mentioned for the first time in 1346, when King Alfonso XI asks for carpenters for the Manzanares two palaces works.

The New Castle construction leaded to the old fortress damage. Nowadays only ruin remains exist. Those ruins are popularly known as “Arms square” (“Plaza de Armas”) and are mainly constituted by some of the rectangular perimeter walls, with the square homage tower at the southeast angle and circle towers in each of the remaining three angles.

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San Ildefonso Royal Palace – La Granja Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, located in the Segovia village El Real Sitio de San Ildefonso, also known as La Granja, is one of the residences of the Spanish Royal Family.

During the Middle Age, Castilian kings used to visit frequently the zone due to its hunting wonders and its proximity to Segovia. King Enrique IV ordered the construction of a lodge and a chapel devoted to the Archbishop San Ildefonso in that area. Both constructions were donated afterwards by the Catholic Monarchs (Los Reyes Católicos), together with some land extensions to the St. Jerome (Jerónimos) monks’ congregation of the Segovia El Parral Monastery. They moved there during the summer. This farm (“granja”), the Parral monks contemplation and meditation space, became the village and also was the village name origin.

Palacio de San IldefonsoFelipe V, first king of the Borbón Royal House in Spain chose El Parral Monastery St.Jerome monks farm to become his new royal site. He bought the farm-chapel and the surrounding lands in 1720. He created this Royal Site (Real Sitio) as a personal project to retire, but after the premature decease of his son Luis I, he returned to take the crown in august 1724, the same year of his abdication. Since then this quiet place became his favorite palace and summer residence. This usage has been maintained up to Alfonso XIII reign.

The Duke of Anjou (afterwards Felipe V) had been educated at his grandfather the “Roi Soleil” court. This background laid down different aspects of his kingdom, specially the French influence in the final result of that project.

Teodoro Ardemans was in charge of the palace construction drawings and project, and René Carlier took the responsibility of the gardens layout and construction. The traditional style of the Spaniard opposed radically to the French style. He had been disciple of Le Nôtre, the Versailles gardens designer. The building works were fast, and they ended at the essential in early 1724. The Kings entered in 1723. After his return to the throne, Felipe V ordered to widen both the gardens and the palace, the last one under the responsibility of the Roman architect Andrea Procaccini. In 1736, the new façade of the garden central axis was ordered to the architect Filippo Juvarra.

The central element of the building is the royal chapel or Collegiate Church (Colegiata), built by Ardemans and decorated by Francisco Sabatini in the reign of Carlos III. Just immediate to the major altar is located the Royal Family Pantheon, where the mortal remains of Felipe V and his second wife, Isabel de Farnesio rest. Despite the devastating fire the palace suffered in 1918, almost all the fresco decorations of the Felipe V epoch have been preserved, emphasizing the kings sleeping accommodation, with Panini paintings. At the inner palace, we should feature as well the impressive glass lamps manufactured by La Granja Royal Crystal Factory (Real Fábrica de Cristal de la Granja).

The majority of the buildings designated to the entourage were ordered by Carlos III, and a large part were sold during the Six Years Revolution (Sexenio Revolucionario) epoch, or transferred later on to other entities. The Crafts Houses (Casas de Oficios) Canons House (Casa Canónigos) and Royal Stables (Caballerizas) still belong to the palatine ensemble.

Concerning the gardens, whose layout was designed by the French architect René Carlier, had been entirely designed and nearly achieved at his death in 1722. The French sculptors René Fremin and Jean Thierry and the also French gardener Esteban Batelou continued his layouts execution, achieving a notorious coherence with the formal characteristic style of the Louis XIV final epoch.

Carlier used the natural hills gradients surrounding the palace as an energy source to make the water spring from the 21 monumental fountains which decorate the gardens. This way he obtained a water pressure never seen before at that time, allowing the water to reach an altitude over 40 m in some of the fountains. The 13 km long and 300 years old pipe system is mainly made of melted iron.

The plumb fountains and the marble statues constitute the richest and best preserved sculptural ensemble of the epoch. The fountains are inspired in the classical mythology, and the sculptural decoration was made by French artists that worked at the Louis XIV palaces, especially the Marly one. Due to the Louis XIV Marly palace disappearance, La Granja is now the best example of this type of formal French garden with such a rich sculptural decoration.

Riofrío Royal Palace

Palacio de RiofríoAt the early 18th century, the property where it is located was rented as a hunting ground by Felipe V and his wife Isabel de Farnesio to the Marquis of Paredes. After the King decease, the Queen afraid of being deprived of La Granja Palace, bought some terrains and ordered the Palace design to the architect Virgilio Rabaglio, succeeded by Carlo Freschine and José Diaz Gamone. Before the construction end, Fernando VI died and was succeeded by Carlos III, remaining Isabel as Queen Regent. That circumstance supposed for Isabel de Farnesio again a relevant role at the court, relegating the Riofrío Palace construction to a second level.

The Palace was used as a hunting pavilion during the 18th and 19th centuries, and as a royalty residence for short periods of time during the second half of the 19th century, especially for the Kings Don Francisco de Asís de Borbón (king consort), and Alfonso XII during the mourning period for his wife María de las Mercedes.

The Palace is Italian style, has a square structure with three floors and a central patio. It looks austere in the exterior, but in the interior we can enjoy the Spanish baroque architecture. Nowadays it lodges the Hunting Museum showing an interesting collection of drawings and trophies related to the hunting activity.

We should highlight the property where it is located, known as “The Riofrío Forest” (El Bosque de Riofrío”), a 625 hectares meadow mainly forested with, Turkey oaks, Holm oaks, Spanish junipers and ash trees where it is possible to observe numerous fauna species either autochthon or exotic. For more information, please contact the Patrimonio Nacional web site.


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Some museums to visit in the Sierra de Guadarrama.

The man and the Sierra de Guadarrama

The Sierra de Guadarrama has always been marked by the relationship between man and nature.

The Sierra de Guadarrama and literature

The presence of the Sierra de Guadarrama in our literary heritage is almost as old as literature itself.

Great Core Heritages

Castles, palaces and monasteries are an added attraction to a visit to the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park.

Sites of Cultural Interest

The mountain villages and their surroundings are home to a large number of cultural heritage elements of enormous value.