At over 1,722 hectares, Casa de Campo is the largest urban park in Spain and Madrid's main green lung. The wide range of facilities, historical remains and animal and plant species make it an ideal place for sports, nature and culture lovers.
Casa de Campo's history began in 1553, when Felipe II moved the Court to Madrid and ordered the purchase of the Vargas family's country house. It grew in size over time with the addition of adjoining grounds and properties. With Fernando VI on the throne, the site was declared a Royal Forest due to its proximity to the Royal Palace and the purpose for which it was used. In the mid-18th century, by order of Carlos III, the park underwent reforms geared to the introduction of arable and livestock farming, activities that Queen María Cristina continued during her reign.
With the advent of the Second Republic, the Casa de Campo ceased to be part of the heritage of the Crown and was opened to the public for the use and enjoyment of all, although this changed during the three years of civil war when it was the scene of battles and bombings. The park was reopened in 1946 and from then onwards major reforestation work was carried out and sports and cultural facilities were built, forming what is now the largest green space in the city.
Throughout Casa de Campo's history buildings were constructed for different purposes. Some of these have survived until today but others have disappeared, due to the passing of time and the 1936 war. However, some original buildings have been preserved, such as the Palacio de los Vargas and the Puente de la Culebra (Snake Bridge), which Sabatini built in 1782 on the Arroyo de Meaques, a tributary which forms part of the Manzanares River basin.
The historical features that still survive in the park include: La Tapia - built by Sabatini to transport water; the Railway Bridge, which dates from the mid-19th century; the Reservado - gardens situated beside the Palacio de los Vargas; the cultivated area of La Partida - used today for experimenting with medicinal plants; the historical fountains and remnants of the civil war - mainly trenches and bunkers. All of these testify to the important role played by the site in the history of the city.
Casa de Campo's vegetation is one of its most important features. There are, in fact, three different ecosystems: oak, pine and river groves. The oak is the dominant tree species in the area and, although many of them are over 100 years old and reach a great height, they are also present in the form of chaparral and bushes. The pine-forest ecosystem boasts a large number of trees that have adapted perfectly to the light, dry conditions in the park. In addition, mushrooms often emerge after the first rains of autumn. Finally, the river groves, or riparian forests, are made up of various, mainly deciduous, species that grow in wetter areas. Examples include poplars, willows and alder trees.
As regards fauna, this green space is home to approximately 133 vertebrate species. Birds are the most numerous, especially sparrows, although bluethroats, finches and owls also inhabit the park. The park's mammals include rabbits, squirrels and even hedgehogs which, although nocturnal, can be spotted near the riverside brambles. With regards to oviparous animals, Casa de Campo's residents include the natterjack toad, the gecko, the Montpellier snake, the Mediterranean turtle and the Iberian lizard.
Activities and facilities
The park offers various leisure options, as it provides sports, restaurant and cultural facilities. It is an ideal place for jogging, tennis, swimming, cycling, canoeing or triathlon, as specially-designated areas are provided for sports enthusiasts.
The Parque de Atracciones amusement park, the Zoo and the cable car (connecting Paseo de Rosales with Casa de Campo) are also located in the grounds, as are the Recinto Ferial Casa de Campo fairground, the youth hostel and the Venta de Batán -the traditional place for enclosing the bulls in the days prior to the bullfights in Las Ventas bullring. All of this makes Casa de Campo an ideal leisure location, with a wide range of activities all in one area. You can even try typical dishes from different regions in Spain in the Gastronomic Walk, pavilions used for the former Feria de Campo trade fair which have been converted into restaurants.