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15 February 2016

Hidden Garden: Surprise in Spain

I love how the people of the 18th century had a real desire to surprise. As example, I cite the Countess-Duchess of Benavente, who lived in Madrid, specifically her 35-acre Parque el Capricho, a hidden garden.

This real stunner is open to the public. Not many visitors to the city, or even locals, know about it, because it’s not in the city center. You should go. I give it an enthusiastic recommendation, particularly in the spring when the fragrance of the lilacs is strong.

Translated Parque el Capricho means Caprice Park. And caprice means what you think it means—on a whim. Whimsy is in full force in this secret and delightful garden.

Who was the Duchess?

But, before our visual tour of the hidden garden, a little context. The Duchess, aka María Josefa de la Soledad Alonso Pimentel, was born in 1752 and lived to the ripe age of 81. She created the park in 1784. She was an incredible patron of the arts, including being a big pal and supporter of the famous painter Francisco de Goya. Who, for all her patronage, painted her (it is now part of a private collection).

Welcome to the hidden garden

Capricho has former bullrings, bunkers, shrines and hermitages, fountains and bee houses. The garden is composed of three sections: the parterre or French garden, the English landscape, and the Italian giardino. While the palace was here, too, only the walls are original. When the Duke and Duchess died, the grounds went into complete disrepair and weren’t renovated until 200-plus years later. Woof. That’s a long time to let nature run its course.

Let’s look at the areas, like the hermitage (where she had a hermit living all the time she was there). The fortifications were a play area for her kids and the labyrinth is where lovers would meet.

The Temple of Bacchus and the 12 Ionic columns. This is a classic.