Hidden Corners of Retiro: The Artificial Mountain

A romantic folly

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring hidden corners of Retiro recently while making my new audio tour for Voicemap. However, as Retiro’s Montaña Artificial (artificial mountain) lay well off my route, I hadn’t had time to visit since was reopened this summer. Still, I’m glad I waited. With the autumnal leaves in full flame, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to take in the views from atop this 19th-century romantic folly.

Waterfalls cascading down the hollowed-out artificial mountain have created damp problems in the past

The structure was originally built as part of a mini pleasure park for King Ferdinand VII to enjoy away from the madding crowds his grandfather, Charles III, had decided to allow into the Royal Park back in the 18th century. A private part of the park tucked away from the general public, the area was landscaped and architect Isidro González Velázquez put to work creating caprichos – that is romantic follies – for the king. 

King’s caprice

Besides an artificial mountain, he also created the Casa del Pescador which sits right by. As with the entrance to the mountain, decorative elements in the pink facade of this little fishing house are inspired by Roman designs found in Pompei – a nod to the fact that Charles III was king of Naples before taking the throne in Spain and oversaw early architectural work on the site. 

The Casa del Pescador

While the Casa de Pescador is a pretty little building on an ornamental lake, the mountain itself, which is completely hollow inside, was quite an impressive architectural feat. Built out of brick the interior dome is 11 meters high and 14 meters wide. A huge space lit by a circular skylight, it’s really quite impressive, especially when you consider that the brickwork is five feet thick in places (around three feet thick towards the top) and has to support not only the earth packed on it but also a series of water features that cascade down from the summit. 

View from the top of the artificial mountain

Letting in water

No wonder then that it’s always been plagued by leaks and was forced to close just a few years following a renovation in 1987. The most recent work cost the local government a whopping 2.1 million euros. Now it’s an exhibition space just as it was back in 1887 when a huge grotto was created inside to celebrate the 1887 Philipines exhibition along with Retiro’s gorgeous Palacio de Cristal. 

The interior of the artificial mountain has been made into an exhibition space

The Montaña Artificial is breathtaking both inside and out. Visitors who climb to the summit can see out over not just the Casa de Pescador but also the ruins of an 11th-century church. The Ruins of San Isidro were brought to the park from Avila in 1896 and now provide the perfect backdrop for gothic photoshoots in the park! 

The ruins of an 11th century church was transported to Madrid from Avila

If you’re visiting Madrid’s most famous park and want to find out more about the hidden corners of Retiro, why not buy my new audio guide, which is now available on Voicemap

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