Keep an eye out for fish, crabs and terrapins in the lake - its most famous denizen was the 12-kilogram carp Margarita, and there are still some impressive specimens today.
Estanque del Retiro was added to Buen Retiro Park as part of improvements commissioned in the 1630s by the Count-Duke of Olivares, who was constructing the Palace of Buen Retiro at the time. The palace complex and gardens were a controversial and expensive project, contradicting the Count-Duke’s own austerity measures: what remains today is the legacy of a brash and ultimately unsuccessful political figure.
Olivares recruited the Florentine engineer and scenographer Cosimo Lotti to redesign the gardens in Italianate style. Lotti fashioned the park that was hailed as a wonder of the Spanish Renaissance: the spectacular lake, as well as a number of fountains and a great canal, were born of a dramatic impulse. Lotti was talented at theatrical effects, impressing the king so much that he was made organiser of the theatre at the Palace. In its heyday, the lake was used for mock sea-battles and other aquatic spectacles.
The lake today can be enjoyed by boat: canoes are available for 45-minute hire, and if that’s too much exertion you can also take a ten-minute circuit on a solar-powered craft. Encircling one end is the Monument to King Alfonso XII.
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