The reign of Philip IV of Spain, "the Planet King", witnessed one of the biggest urbanistic disasters in Modern History. It was the Palace of Buen Retiro ("Good Retirement"), that his minister the Count-Duke of Olivares planned in 1629 so that the decadent Court was entertained and therefore put aside of government responsibilities.
El Buen Retiro
The place started up being a terrain property of the Count-Duke close to the Monastery of Jerónimos in Madrid, later acquiring nearby lands from the marquises of Poyar and Tavera, besides donations of the city itself, becoming a terrain of 145 hectares.
The project was encharged to the architects Giovanni Battista Crescenzi and Alonso Carbonell, who designed large gardens with woodlands and entertainment areas, ponds, theatres, one colosseum, one lion's den and an exihbition of exotic birds. Since 1633 the greatest king partyies were celebrated in here, if they were dances, bullfightings, naumachias, and performance of the best playwrights of the Golden Century (Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina acted there). During his reign, it was never open to the population.
But outside the reality was very different. The people of Madrid, overwhelmed with oppressive taxes to pay the endless Flanders wars and with an inflation caused by the gold from America, was in a precary situation. And the works carried out in El Retiro only caused a greater poverty, riots and critics.
Worsening the problem
The king's obsession for collecting artworks took him to buy large collections of pictures (more tan 800 in ten years) from painters in Madrid, Rome and Naples. In 1633, he asked for a palace-museum with luxury interiors able to store all these acquisitions. So it was imperative to plan a new great building, to which the king continously added endless annexes, and make it in a cheap and quick manner in order to silence critics. The palace was built in only seven years, leading the country to near economic collapse, and using low-quality materials (stone only in basements, the walls were made of bricks and forge was wooden).
Quevedo is attributed the verses "it is not a good occasion / that when so many disasters happen / you make water fountains spring / you are making retirements (Retiros) / and not loneliness". Matías de Novoa blamed Olivares for "making a ridiculous, non-profitable building and useless in all manners, of thin walls and weak basements, unfavoured by Nature and Heaven, sterile and sandy, wanting to force it to fecundity and decoration from plants helped by money, not from him or his possessions, but from the belongings of the city". The capital was full of rumours and jokes about the palace, that was called "the hen run", due to its exterior ugliness and the big bird store it housed.
From 1735 to 1764, when the new Royal Palace was built, the royal family had to live in the Palace of El Retiro, that hated it because of the walls' slimness and the low quality of the building. This was finally the cause of its end, a progressive degradation that, when the French installed there during the Independence War, provoked the complete ruin of the palace.
The palace was a good reflection of Philip IVth reign, a greatness built on mud feet. Its sad end came with its pulling down by order of Isabella II, and the requalification and sale of its lands, that had already become the centre of Madrid, in what became one of the great fishy urbanistic deals in Spain History. Today the majority of the gardens (completely reformed) remains, and also a salon for parties (Casón del Buen Retiro).