“El Capricho” could be the title of a documentary about the situation and administration that some Greek parks live. In reality, however, “El Capricho” Park is an historic and artistic garden in Madrid, which extends over an area of 14 hectares in the neighborhood of Barajas that is called Alameda de Osuna, at the northeast of the center of the Spanish capital. It was created by the Duchess of Osuna, between 1787 and 1839, to realize her particular desire: a private garden emerging through thematic spaces where the dukes could entertain themselves and realize their fantasies of the eighteenth century.1
The garden contains three different styles: the flowerbed or the French garden, the English landscape and the Italian “giardino”. In this suburban habitat, artists such as Bocherrini the composer and Goya the painter, worked in its spaces. Where, for example Goya painted "El Columbio" or "La Pradera de San Isidro".
It is a garden that stands out in English, French and Italian references from the moment that was created. Reports that reflect the artistic influences of its designers, as it is the only romantic garden in Madrid with important cultural and gardening characteristics such as maze of shrubs, streams and lakes where swans, ducks and other animals live.
The element of the maze in the garden is prominent and plays a leading role. We find labyrinthine schemes in diverse cultures and religions since prehistoric times. In Antiquity it represents the house of Daedalus and is identified with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Since the fifteenth century it appears as an ornamental motif in gardening, although still with a strong symbolic character. For some thinkers the Maze symbolizes the unconscious, the error and the distance of the source of life, while for others it served to defend the initial access to sacredness, immortality and absolute reality.
The maze of “El Capricho” reproduces the aesthetic. ornamental character of the moment and responds to the romantic rhythm that is present throughout the garden. It was planted again in 1987, being faithful to the original design of 1870. It was created with laurel (Laurus nobilis L.), a dark green perennial shrub, ideal for the formation of tall hedges. The minimum route to the center is 370 meters and 319 m. to get out of it.
At the time that this garden was created, the cultural flow of romanticism arose in Europe, with clear influences on the motive of gardening. The adjective "romantic", like the word "romanticism", born in England, originally declared an idyllic and picturesque landscape, whose sight touched the observer. Soon, a whole aesthetic "school" in Germany made constant reference to the "romantic" style. Rejecting classical aesthetics (including the one prevailing in France), it preached the return to the roots of European national cultures, which would reinvent their original purity, that they had during Christian Middle Ages. Gradually, the controversies took a specific form: the archaic, idolatrous of Southern European classicism was displaced by the medieval romanticism of northern Europe.2
The park hides one more secret: its famous bunker of the Jaca Position, an enclave of the Civil War, unique in Europe for its current state of conservation that housed the headquarters of the Republican Army Center. The refuge of 2,000 square meters, located 15 meters underground and capable of withstanding bombs up to 100 kilos - was built in the park around 1937, taking advantage of its distance from the war front, its good communications and the trees suitable for camouflage.3
After decades of abandonment, it was bought by the City Council of Madrid in 1974 and during 1985 it was declared a Common Good of Cultural Interest. Since 2005, the spring, summer and autumn seasons have been celebrated, with concerts, theater and dance. As of May 2016, you can also visit the site that was the central office of the Democratic Army in Madrid during the Civil War.
By merely walking in the garden, it is easy to see the good organization and management of its services, while the large number of painters who create within it, impresses us positively. There are also historical and environmental guided tours, art seminars for children, young and old people, gardeners who care for plants, social events and many visitors of all ages. It is a living cell of history and recreation, with more than two centuries of life, many visits and love of the people of Madrid as well as everybody.
The park “El Capricho” is accessible to people with reduced mobility in the main parts of it.
In October 2017 and December 2018, when I visited El Capricho Park, I was left with the image that is an ecosystem good example of how a municipal authority can manage a public interest good for the benefit of society. The timeliness of such management today is very important, since it is true that romanticism refers to the past. In our times, political philosophy –on the existential relationship of the human being species with the viability of planet earth in relation to the technological revolution, global warming and climate emergency– is being strengthened.
In this way that a park can play an important role and act as a springboard to improve living standards, as a place to integrate social relationships and contact with nature, as a social laboratory that promotes education and entertainment of its users, with an emphasis on art and culture, sport and environmental protection, self-management of land and leisure. Public spaces are considered to be common goods, where people can be trained daily to perceive the meaning of the wounds we cause as a species on the planet.
“El Capricho” is one of these historical parks that function as ecosystems in which human roles can be updated to protect the environmental and natural resources, by overthrowing theories of the past that explain the resources mentioned above as mere factor of production and only this.
It works in response to the critical question. What do we want? Survive by growing greedy with natural resources or live in a sustainable relationship with the ecosystems that house us?
1. Parque de El Capricho https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parque_de_El_Capricho
2. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Πάπυρος Larousse Britannica, 2007: Ρομαντισμός, σελ. 76-81., τεύχος 45, Αθήνα.
3. Parque El Capricho de la Alameda de Osuna https://www.esmadrid.com/informacion-turistica/parque-del-capricho?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
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I would like to thank Paraskevi Giannouzi for the corrections and observations that has made in English translation of the text.
The photos are taken in the ecosystem of historical artistic garden “El Capricho”, in Madrid.
Text and photos by © Dimitris V. Geronikos.