I have finally visited this park and I think I did it the best way: with a guided tour organized by the guys from Madrid Low Cost. These guys organize different visits every now and then to different places in Madrid, as well as parties and events. In this case the visit was free and then we could donate whatever we wanted for the recent earthquake that Mexico suffered.
Here is my attempt to “summarize” the history of this park. Which I loved and still do not understand how it is that it is not so well-known to the locals.
The park is located in Alameda de Osuna, northeast of Madrid. Created in 1784 by the Dukes of Osuna and especially by the Duchess, Dona Maria Josefa de la Soledad Alonso Pimentel, the alma mater of the park.
The Dukes acquired the land in 1787 and hired the Versailles architects to build it with 2 conditions: they could only work for her while they were in Madrid, and after building it they had to return to France. It took them 50 years to build the whole park, but the Duchess died 5 years before it was finished. The duchess created an authentic natural paradise that was frequented by the most distinguished personalities of the time and where some of the most prestigious artists, gardeners and scenographers worked.
After the death of the duchess began its decline, which was unstoppable until in 1974 when the Madrid City Council bought the park and began its recovery, which ended in 1999. The park is divided into 3 gardens: the parterre or French garden, the English landscape (Versailles style) and the Italian giardino (Tuscan type, with labyrinths).
It opens only Saturday, Sunday and some holidays from 9:00 to 18:30 in winter, and until 21:00 in Summer. Pets and food are not allowed, and the maximum capacity is 1000 people per day.
A little bit about the Duchess of Osuna
The Duchess was born in a noble family, the Benavente, (not the Osuna), in Madrid, 1750. Her name was María Josefa de la Soledad Alfonso-Pimentel y Téllez-Girón, she was not known to be very beautiful but intelligent and elegant. She played an important role in the Spanish society of the time and carried out numerous works of charity, but also competed with the Queen Maria Luisa and with the Duchess of Alba.
Her mother was very concerned about marrying her daughter that she puts 2 conditions: it has to be noble but of a lesser category than her to keep the Benavente. When she was to marry the brother of the Duke of Osuna, this one dies and she ends up marrying the Duke of Osuna, who she truly loved, that is how she became the Duchess of Osuna.
She went into depression after having 3 consecutive abortions, and got into literature to overcome it. The dukes finally had 5 children who were educated at home by their own mother.
The Duchess was very rebellious, capricious and with a French style, all these characteristics are reflected in the park.
First Stop: The Old House
Perhaps it is the most capriciously constructed place within this garden called, in a very descriptive way, “El Capricho”. This little house, very picturesque and with an orchard, is a small imitation of the “Le Grand Trianon” or the rooms of Marie Antoinette, which are next to Versailles in Paris (the Duchess was a fan of Marie Antoinette).
It was built between 1792 and 1795, and it´s the original construction, thanks to the dry climate of Madrid that has allowed its permanence in time.
On the lower floor, there was the old woman’s room, with the life-size automatons of an elderly woman spinning and a boy accompanying her. On the upper floor was the so-called “Rich Cabinet”, adorned with neoclassical paintings, twelve chairs with straw seats and a night table. Today, apparently the house is empty, although you can see that they are still planting food in the orchard.
Second Stop: A small Bunker
The park has two bunker from the Spanish Civil War. This one is the small one and even less known. It´s hidden among the dense vegetation, invisible for the aviation.
Third Stop: The Ballroom
This is where we begin to see the Masonry symbols that are present throughout the park, since the dukes were part of this secret society.
Freemasonry or Masonry
No one knows for sure when and where Freemasonry began. The tradition affirms that the old freemasonry began in Egypt, between the masters and architects who directed the construction of the great Pyramids. Others locate their origins in Israel, at the time when the Jews were building the Temple of Solomon, given the recurrent allusive symbolism in the present lodges. The first indication of its existence, however, appears in the thirteenth century, when a group of masons (in French, maçons) wanted to emancipate themselves from the tutelage of the friars, especially the Benedictines, formed guilds that came to monopolize the construction. To preserve the secrets and techniques of Gothic they created three degrees: Apprentice, Journeyman or fellow (now called Fellowcraft), and Master Mason and implanted ceremonies of initiation and fidelity.
This building has octagonal shape (few in the world with this shape), cannot be visited at the moment, but we know that apart from having two levels, all its inside walls are covered with mirrors and the roof has zodiac symbols. It is second main building of the park after the Palace.
On the outside, the reliefs on each of the 8 facades of the building have 6 figures. On the four odd sides of the building are the acceptance / invitation stages of masons, and on the even faces the four seasons of the year are represented. Therefore, the facades represent how the apprentice masons pass their first year.
Masons play a lot with the symbology, for them the number EIGHT means brotherhood and friendship and number SIX, balance and justice.
The estuary that begins in the lake (Fourth stop) ends in this building, and played an important role for the ladies who arrived in “falúas” from the park dock, arriving at the two external stairs of the building (one for women and one for men), which have a boar sculpture (like that of the Palace of the Pittis in Florence) in its lower part.
The “falúas” were recreational river boats, typical of Spain and similar to the gondolas of Venice. If you want to know more about it, there is a museum of falúas in Aranjuez (near Madrid).
Fourth Stop: The Lake and the Monument to the III Duke of Osuna
In the Lake we will find several interesting places that we will while surrounding it. The Duchess wanted to have an Anglo-Chinese garden on her property, so fashionable in the eighteenth century and whose elements used to include rivers and lakes with irregular edges with islands inside.
If we look towards the center of the lake, we will see the island located there with the Monument to the III Duke of Osuna, consisting of a waterfall on which rises a grave on whose tombstone, and under a bronze medallion representing the Duke’s head , we will read: “To the memory of D. Pedro Téllez Girón III Duke of Osuna, Viceroy of Naples”.
The III Duke of Osuna (1574 – 1624), despite being one of the most prominent characters of the reign of Felipe III, preferred the battlefield to the comfortable life that allowed his fortune. He fought against the rebels in Flanders and against Turks and Berbers in the Mediterranean, arming a corsair fleet with his own money and with which he always won, sinking or capturing from the Ottoman fleet, more ships than it lost in the battle of Lepanto. The death of Felipe III and his opposition to the new valid, the Count-Duke of Olivares, took him to jail, where he died.
Due to its greatness in the battlefields, the Duchess of Osuna wanted to make this monument for him.
Fifth Stop: Matting Pavilion
Here we will see the remains of the old Matting Pavilion, of which only the soil remains, which has black and white symbols typical of Freemasons, and places where the supports that raised it would fit. From here they could see all the park, it was like a private goiter from which now only the base remains.
Sixth Stop: The Pier
There is scarcely any trace about it, except the access road to it with a floor similar to the Matting Pavilion.
Seventh Stop: House of Cane
This jetty was built between 1792 and 1795, called the House of Canes because this is the material that covers it. The author is the Italian scenographer Angel María Tadey, which is also the author of the Old House. In addition to keep the ships of the enclosure, it had a small pavilion or dining room that opens towards the water. Both the latter and the jetty are decorated with mural paintings simulating an non-existent architecture, using what is usually called in Spanish “trampantojo” (“trompe l’oeil” in French) painting. It has been restored between 1999 and 2001, given the great state of deterioration in which it was.
The house has a David’s Star (six edges) and different triangles which are also masonic symbols.
Eighth Stop: Iron Bridge
The Iron Bridge that crosses the estuary, which bears a resemblance to the Bridge of Sighs of Venice, was the first iron bridge built-in Spain, and dates from 1830.
Nineth Stop: Hermitage
The presence of a hermitage does not match with freemasonry. Its construction was because Fray Arsenio asked the Dukes for asylum and this was given with two conditions: he had to live like a hermit (he could not cut his hair and nails, among others) and he would pray every day for the Dukes of Osuna.
The Hermitage is one of the constructions erected with the intention of looking ruinous from the moment of its completion. It is also from the scenographer Angel María Tadey, who also places “trompe l’oeil” (trampantojos) as the bricks he paints outside the hermitage. Its black and white cobblestones also symbolize Freemasonry (it represents the duality that in the human being and the material world manifests itself as “good and evil”).
To the right of the chapel there is a tomb in the form of a small pyramid (mason symbol) where there was an epitaph that read:
Here lies Fray Arsenio.
He lived in this region for 26 years
in this hermitage of the Alameda de Osuna
that was donated in charity for its merits
dedicating himself constantly to prayer
and to the most sublime pious practices
He died on June 4, 1802
in the arms of his friend Eusebio
who has happened to him in his kind of life
and aspires to succeed him in his virtues.
Upon the death of Eusebio, he was replaced by a wooden mannequin.
Tenth Stop: Ducks Pond
Among other oddities of the park, here we find the statue of a woman beheaded with sculpted roses. The roses have seven petals (also important in Freemasonry because seven are the subjects that the masons must study, seven are the days that Solomon took to build the temple, etc.). In the stomach of the sculpture there is a face of a witch, of which I do not know its meaning, but here is an image for you to guess.
Eleventh Stop: The Fort
Another unique element of this garden is the Battery or Fort. At the time of its construction, it had a series of accessories, now missing, such as twelve small bronze cannons, a sentry box with a soldier and his armament, and a wooden drawbridge. The water pit that surrounded it has been preserved; It has a depth of about half a meter. Here the Dukes and their guests played the Fortin assault which ended with fireworks.
If we see it from above it has the form of a star of David.
Twelfth Stop: Gunner’s House
Behind the fort is the gunner’s house where the powder and fireworks were kept.
Thirteen Stop: The Wheel of Saturn
This point consists of a square from which emerge six (number six again) equal roads arranged in the form of radii to which it surrounds at its ends another circular path.
The set forms the Wheel of Saturn and in the square that acts as axis is a column of order of Paestum on which stands the statue of “Saturn devouring their children.”
Let´s remember that the Duchess was a close friend of Goya, and that he painted “Saturn devouring his son” on the walls of La Quinta del Sordo, a house he acquired around 1819 (20 years before the Duchess, who loved that painting, ordered this statue). This painting by Goya is currently in the Museo del Prado.
A bit of Roman mythology
Saturn, God of agriculture and harvest in the Roman religion, is the youngest of the children of Uranus and Tellus (Heaven and Earth). Under the right of primogeniture, Titan, the eldest of the children of Uranus, was to succeed his father on the throne. But Saturn, the most ambitious of all, got his brother Titan to let him reign in his place on the condition that Saturn kills his descendants, in order to leave the throne of Olympus to the children of Titan after Saturn death.
Saturn devours all of his newborn children from her marriage to Ops. But Jupiter escapes his fate, thanks to an Ops ploy. Jupiter, educated in secret, takes revenge on his father and forces him to give life back to his brothers and sisters, Jupiter seized the empire of heaven and the Saturn and Ops dynasty lasted to the detriment of Titan.
Fourteen Stop: The Beekeeper
It is a building constructed from 1794. Its name is taken from the existing beehives on its back facade, which the bees could enter and leave by opening the metal trap doors that closed them.
Once inside the building, the space destined for the bees was limited by some crystals, through which they could be observed by the possible spectators from a luxuriously ornamented area. Inside, eight Corinthian columns, still existing, surrounded a statue of Venus made of Carrara marble. This is the only building in the park that has a window to see the inside. Unfortunately, the statue of Venus that we see is a replica that was given by the person who has the original: Alicia Koplowitz.
Bees are also seen as a masonic element because they are obedient, disciplined, hardworking and their work is a good for humanity.
Fifteen Stop: The Swans Pond
From here the landscape is beautiful. This pond has the shape of a four-leaf clover. A symbol that traditionally means good luck, but it is also a symbol of Templar character as old as the Templar Cross itself. As Templar as the leg of goose that can be seen in a rock, which alludes to the hermeticism of the order and the initiatory and spiritual path of perfection, like the Camino de Santiago, which is also represented in the pond through a shell of pilgrim. Do not forget that the Goose Game was an invention of the Spanish Templars, a game that was actually a road book that concealed hidden messages through their boxes. In a nearby bank you can also see a tibia and a skull, another symbol of the Temple.
Sixteen Stop: The Temple
Built between 1786 and 1789, the temples are typical of landscaped gardens; we can cite as predecessors, and possibly inspirers of it, the Temples of Villanueva, in Aranjuez (Spain), or the Temple of Love, in Versailles (France). This temple is unique in its kind because it has an elliptical plant. Originally covered by a dome, as it tells us a description of the eighteenth century, it is unknown when it disappeared. In the same way, at the beginning, the Roman goddess Venus (now located in the Beekeeper) was occupying the place now occupied by Bacchus (god of wine), appearing the name of this one for the first time in a descriptive text of the construction of the beginning of the XIX century. Bacchus is a deity used the Masonic celebrations.
Seventeenth Stop: The Bunker
It was built-in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when the General Headquarters of the Defense of Madrid was located in the park. Nowadays, and while we tour the park, we can find different entrances and vents of the fortification.
The bunker was opened to the public two years ago at the request of the locals, and can be accessed through guided tours carried out by the Madrid City Council. But the tickets for the guided tour are sold out very quickly. In March 2018 the new tours will open in their web for 2018.
Eighteenth Stop: The Palace
The palace is the main building of the park, where the dukes stayed when they came to the park. On the outside, the medallions stand out, the god Apollo, Daphne in the episode when she becomes a laurel. But the inside was a wonder: the library had many books banned in Spain at that time and had up to 23 paintings by Goya, among others. The books are now in the National Library and the paintings in the Prado Museum.
A few months ago a plan was approved to make a museum in this palace dedicated to the Duchess of Osuna and the enlightened woman of romanticism.
Anecdotes of the Duchess
– The duchess had a very interesting life. Playing cards with his friends, one of them drops a coin, he started looking for it, while the Duchess did not waste time lighting a bunch of bills to help him look for the coin.
– At a party organized by the French ambassador, the Duchess expected the best champagne, but that was not the case. When she invited the ambassador to her palace, she placed the best champagne for the horses to drink from it.
– While the Duchess of Osuna was organizing one her many parties in her palace, she consulted with the Duchess of Alba (her competition) what she was going to wear so as not to dress the same. But when the Duchess of Alba arrives at the party, she finds all the maids of the palace dressed like her.
Nineteenth Stop: The Labyrinth
It is located at a lower height of the ground, in the French Garden. Although the Labyrinth is not known before the nineteenth century, it is believed that it is also another work from the Duchess’s time. It was rebuilt several times before it was destroyed in the 40s of the 20th century by the forced landing of an Iberia plane from the nearby Barajas airport. After this event it was abandoned, becoming a storage space until the original plans of the Labyrinth appeared, at which point it began its restoration. In it, banks were re-installed in its central square and a Jupiter tree was planted in its center, highlighting its pink color as it blossoms in spring among the green vegetation of which it is surrounded. Also the labyrinth correspond to another mythological message represented by the legend of the Minotaur.
(Visitors are not allowed to enter in it).
Twentieth Stop: Emperors´ Square
The oval Emperors´ Square takes its name from the twelve Roman Caesars busts: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otto, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, that were installed in it in 1815. These statues are already mentioned in a letter of 1689 addressed to its owner, the Duke of Gandía, where quality is praised of the work with which they are made and it is recommended to ensure their value for the risk of wars. It was then that the busts arrived in Gandia, a city where they remained for a hundred years until the Duchess of Osuna, also Duchess of Gandia, learned of their existence, arranging their move to the park.
In this square, there is an exedra (an open semicircular construction that was used as a place of meeting and philosophical conversation in ancient Greece, although it has also been used by shamans to perform pagan rites) from the end of the 18th century with a small temple in its center. When the Duchess of Osuna died in 1834, the monument began to be modified, setting up four years after her death, under the shrine and on a pink marble base, a bust of her made in bronze by José Tomás.
Many films have been filmed in this area of the park, including: “A ray of light” and “Doctor Zhivago”. Nowadays, the City Council only gives permission to film movies in the park to movies that are from the time of the park or about the dukes of Osuna.
Twenty-first Stop: The GreenHouse
Built in 1795. Behind it, in an area that can not be visited, within an iron and glass structure, is the plantation space. Currently there is the headquarters of the school responsible for the restoration of the park.
Twenty-second Stop: Garden of the Duelists
Work of Martín López Aguado, important architect of the Court, to the point that it was he who designed the Puerta de Alcalá, the Puerta de Toledo, the Teatro Real and the Prado Museum, which gives an idea that the Duchess spared no expense when building these gardens. The duelists rise on two tall Doric columns of marble, at the highest point of which are two busts, each with its back turned.
The story of the duelists
Both busts represent two important historical figures, the Infante Enrique de Borbón (family of the Dukes of Osuna) and Antonio de Orleans (Duke of Montpensier), who fought a duel, very fashionable at that time among the knights as a way to wash their honor after an affront. The causes that led these characters to fight in mourning was the interest of both to be claimants to the Spanish Crown. The Infante Enrique de Borbón published in a newspaper a series of slanders about Antonio de Orleans, which is why he challenged him to a duel. This was carried out in the so-called Dehesa de los Carabancheles. After the steps of rigor, he had to shoot first to the Duke of Montpensier, for being the offended, but he missed the shot; then the Infante fired, but it also failed. The honor was already safe, but his godparents had established that the duel was to continue until one of the duelists was wounded. On the third attempt, Antonio de Orleans struck the Infante on the forehead and killed him.The Duchess wanted to remember this duel and designed this parterre with both duelists separating the columns at the regulatory distance of 40 meters. To know who lost the duel, it is enough to look at the vegetation (the one who dies is surrounded by cypresses).
The park after the Duchess of Osuna
After the death of the Duchess, his first grandson, Don Pedro de Alcántara, XI Duke of Osuna, inherits his fortune and after his early death, his other grandson and brother of the first, Don Mariano de Alcántara, XII Duke of Osuna, inherits more than 40 nobiliary titles, many palaces and more than six million of pesetas of the time.
This was dedicated to squander all his fortune and died in 1882 ruined and without heirs.
The creditors put on sale all their assets, acquiring the property of El Capricho the Bauer family (Germans), owners of the bank of the same name, who went into bankruptcy in 1946 and passed the property to the real estate “Alameda de Osuna”. This outlines different hotel projects that finally does not take place and, after being abandoned for years, it is the City Council, its current owner, who buys it in 1978.