It’s another great day here at the blog! Baguette Iselen is back, this time with a tour of a royal palace. Enjoy all!
The official residence of His Majesty the King of Spain is the Royal Palace, also called Eastern Palace, but King Felipe doesn’t sleep there, nor did his father. Alfonso XIII was the last monarch who lived in the massive building permanently. It was very uncomfortable: the kitchen was so far away from the dining room that he claimed he never ate his soup hot.
The Count of Barcelona, Juan Carlos’ father, also lived in the Royal Palace during his childhood and told his son so many stories about the problems of heating the rooms that Juan Carlos never considered the option of living there. He chose to stay in Zarzuela, the small palace the dictator General Franco picked out for him.
The Hunting Lodge
Zarzuela was a small hunting lodge built by King Felipe IV in 1627 on top of the Mount of Pardo, near Madrid. Apparently, it was covered in bramble, “zarza” in Spanish. Zarzuela means full of bramble, literally. Juan Gómez Mora, the architect, planned a classical baroque building in an unpretentious Palladian style with a small Italian garden and two wings on both sides of the main house. After all, the King was supposed to stay only a few weekends every year with his close friends. King Carlos IV made some improvements in the 18th century adding neoclassical furniture, some tapestries, bronze clocks, and porcelains, but it was still a simple hunting lodge.
Mid-Twentieth Century Residence
Unfortunately, it was almost destroyed during the Civil War. Franco commissioned the restoration works to architect Diego Méndez in 1958 but he only kept the outer walls adding a second floor and planned a new garden. In 1962, the dictator offered Zarzuela to the newlywed Juan Carlos and Sofia. It was an arrangement that suited them both, I mean, Franco had an ulterior motive to be so kind to them but also the prince had one to accept the gift. Juan Carlos and Sofia were Princes of Spain back then, young, charismatic, very popular, and Franco thought they could be a threat to his own popularity. Zarzuela was on the outskirts and he believed he could control them better, monitoring who was visiting them.
It’s said that Queen Sofia found mics in phones and rooms, someone was listening to their conversations. But, on the other hand, Juan Carlos thought he could live a normal life, far away from Franco’s entourage machinations, and raise his children like any other bourgeois family. He loved the privacy they enjoyed even if they were watched.
Carmen Polo, Franco’s wife, decorated the rooms with some furniture that belonged to the National Heritage in a very austere style that was a trend back then. It included heavy fabrics, cream walls, dark furniture, classic carpets, and a lot of paintings with golden frames.
It was a big square house: a semi-basement with the kitchen and administrative area, the first floor with living rooms and Juan Carlos’ studio to welcome guests, while the family rooms occupied the second floor.
Sofia didn’t dare to touch anything till she became Queen in 1975, but even then she didn’t change much, at least in the official rooms. She did add some floral upholstery in an English style she seemed to favour.
The chapel was built in 1965 in the garden surrounded by trees Sofia planted herself and, in 1972, two wings were added to the main house. The private wing is where the family lives. Sofia and princess Irene’s rooms are there, for example, and the official wing with all the offices, including the king’s studio, and staff rooms. The first floor of the main building is still the official audience room with paneled walls you all know from pictures.
As the years went by, Juan Carlos built a swimming pool, a gym, a new building for the Royal Guard, a communication centre, a small solar power plant, and the staff dining room. Zarzuela wasn’t a hunting loge anymore but the animals still lived in the 16,000 hectares of pine and holm oak forest, cedars, elms, and first. Visitors told stories about friendly deer, boars, and rabbits that come to welcome them when they get off their cars in front of the staircase that leads to the white door, which you know from pics too.
When Juan Carlos became King, only 7 people worked for him directly. Currently, almost 500 civil servants and military officers work there. In 1987, the situation was critical because there was no room for more offices and the audience room was small and the upstairs was not handicapped accessible. The government decided to build Magnolias, a new office space, taking advantage of a natural unevenness on the ground which means that this new building roof is actually the garden terrace. Magnolias is semi-underground but massive and allows Queen Letizia to greet big groups of people during her audiences. You know this place very well, those big rooms with cream walls and marble floors, a lot of light, colourful tapestries, very clean and tidy. They’re very different from the old audience room paneled in wood.
The staff offices are in Magnolias now: the secretary-general, the head of security, and the chief of protocol have their own offices, there’s a massive meeting room, and the archives of the House are in the basement. Magnolias is connected with Zarzuela palace by a long, underground tunnel with white walls where Juan Carlos decided to hang all the ridiculous caricatures several artists have drawn of him because he thought they were funny. He also displayed his collection of model ships.
The Prince Pavilion
In 2002, a new house was built one mile away from Zarzuela: the Prince Pavilion, where Felipe and Letizia live with their children although their offices are still in the old building, in the official wing.