The Royal Gardens of the Retiro (Real Sitio de El Buen Retiro) date back to between 1630 and 1640, during the reign of Felipe IV, when the Count Duke Olivares erected a palace enclosure in the eastern limits of Madrid around the Monasterio de los Jesuitas, an old retreat of the Hapsburgs. The gardens were built at the same time as the Palace and took up most of the land. The ponds, canals and streams, along with the small chapels, made up the basic structure of the gardens.
The layout of the Garden changed throughout history. Carlos III tried to improve the outside appearance by replacing the old walls with elegant wrought iron railings and allowed public access to the gardens for the first time.
During the French invasion at the beginning of the XIX century, the Real Sitio was used as a fortress. At the end of the War of Independence, Fernando VII began the reconstruction and opened a part of the Garden to the public as Carlos III had, but following the Landscaping fashion of that time he kept a part to himself for recreation use: some of the structures from that period still remain as the Fisherman House, the artificial Mountain and the Smuggler´s House.
After the 1868 revolution the gardens became municipal property and so, a public park. Kiosks and small theatres for puppets and music were built, and a big walk was opened for coaches which ran from North to South thus connecting the Park to the City.
At the end of the XIX Century and the beginning of the XX Century the Retiro was used for different international exhibitions. Some outstanding buildings remain today like the Palacio de Cristal and the Velazquez Palace as well as the whole landscaped garden that was built for those events.
In the course of time, the Retiro turned into the heart of the city and inevitably, it was overrun by motor vehicles until the 1970´s.
The location of the Retiro, its leisure activities such us boats, puppet theatres, open-air music concerts, kiosks as well as singers, musicians and painters, make it a favourite of the inhabitants of Madrid and visitors alike who use it as a meeting point and leisure option today.