The Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid is an 8-hectare botanical garden located at Murillo Square, in front of the Prado Museum. The garden was founded on 1755, by King Ferdinand VI, and installed in the Orchard of Migas Calientes, near what today is called Puerta de Hierro, on the banks of the Manzanares River. It contained more than 2,000 plants.
In 1774 King Charles III ordered the garden moved to its current location, with design by architects Francesco Sabatini and Juan Villanueva that organized the garden into three tiered terraces, arranging plants according to the method of Linnaeus. Its mission was not only to exhibit plants, but also to teach botany, promote expeditions for the discovery of new plant species and classify them. The herbarium is the largest in Spain, and has now has over a million specimens.
The garden was greatly augmented by a collection of 10,000 plants brought to Spain by Alessandro Malaspina in 1794. The Spanish War of Independence in 1808 caused the garden to be abandoned, but in 1857 director Mariano de la Paz Graëlls y de la Aguera revived it with a new greenhouse and refurbishment of the upper terrace. Under his leadership a zoo was created in the garden, but subsequently relocated to the Parque del Buen Retiro. Between 1880 and 1890 the garden suffered heavy losses, first losing 2 hectares (4.9 acres) to the Ministry of Agriculture in 1882, then losing 564 trees in 1886 to a cyclone.
Since 1939 the garden has been dependent on the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and in 1942 was declared Artistic Garden. In 1974, after decades of hardship and neglect, the garden was closed to the public for restoration work to its original plan. It reopened in 1981.
Today’s garden is divided into seven major outdoor sections and five greenhouses. Total collections include about 90,000 plants and flowers, and 1,500 trees. It also contains a substantial herbarium.
- Terraza de los Cuadros – collections of ornamental plants, medicinal, aromatic, endemic and orchard gathered around a small fountain. All are planted in box-edged plots. At its southwestern end is a Japanese garden.
- Terraza de las Escuelas Botánicas – a taxonomic collection of plants, ordered phylogenetically and set within plots about 12 small fountains.
- Terraza del Plano de la Flor – a diverse collection of trees and shrubs, as designed in the mid-nineteenth century in the romantic English style. It contains the Villanueva Pavilion, built in 1781 as a greenhouse, and a pond with bust of Carl Linnaeus.
The garden’s two greenhouses are divided into four rooms. The Graëlls greenhouse dates from the nineteenth century and exhibits tropical plants and bryophytes. The newer structure supports three climates: tropical, temperate, and desert.
The herbarium was established in 1846, and now contains about a million specimens from around the world organized into two collections: phanerogams and cryptogams.
There is also an abundance of birds, including wild parakeets, butterflies and the occasional red squirrel.