The Versailles of Spain
La Granja De San Ildefonso
La Granja de San lldefonso is a Baroque style palace often referred to as the “Versailles of Spain”. It was built during the 18th century as a summer retreat for King Phillip V. King Phillip was actually French, the first Bourbon king of Spain, who had been born at the original Versailles in France, spending most of his childhood days there. Phillip V only began learning Spanish when he took the throne at age seventeen, in 1700.
The land in which La Granja de San Ildefonso is built had been a hunting lodge erected by Henry IV of Castile during the 15th century, along with a small shrine dedicated to San Ildefonso. Henry IV later gave the site to the church, and a monastery dedicated to San Jeronimos was built on it. The site was purchased from the monks in 1719 by Philip V, after his summer palace nearby at Valsain burned to a shell.
The name La Granja comes from the word “farm” because of the self-sufficient monks that used to farm on the site. A church is still present on the grounds, even though as it stands a grand Baroque edifice obviously built for royalty. The mausoleum contains the tombs of Phillip V and his second wife, Queen Isabella.
The gardens of La Granja de San Ildefonso are a spectacular array of woodlands, formal landscaped gardens with elegant fountains, statues, and a large ornamental lake that lies secluded at the highest point of the park. Amazingly, the pipes in the fountains are still fully functional, however only a few fountains operate on a daily basis. Only on holidays such as San Fernando and San Luis, do all twenty-six fountains operate.
Like a painting of perfection, La Granja sits against the backdrop of the stunning Guadarrama Mountains. The interior design is an array of Baroque style antiques chosen by an army of the finest artisans. The furnishings are flawless along with the décor that includes crystal chandeliers, tapestries, frescoes, Italian Carrara marble, and Japanese lacquer work. The grounds and architecture may have been perfect, but they hardly thrilled Phillip V for more than a few minutes. He was quoted as saying “The Baths of Diana fountain has cost me three millions and amused me for three minutes”.
In 1918, La Granja was severely burned. Fortunately, the local glass factory appropriately named “La Granja”, supplied replacement fittings including some replica chandelier pieces to restore what had been damaged. La Granja glass works still produces Spain’s most exquisite glasswork.
Today, La Granja de San Ildefonso serves as one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations. Although nowhere near the splendor of Versailles in France, La Granja is not without its charms.