Nicknamed the Lungs of Madrid, the Parque del Buen Retiro (“Park of the Pleasant Retreat”) is a place to breathe deep. It began its life as a royal retreat near the San Jerónimo el Real and gradually grew into a place of gardens and stately avenues near the Palacio del Buen Retiro.
The Estanque Grande (“Great Pond”) had a practical function as a water reserve, but it was also a tempting place to while away the time. During the 17th century, the pond was used for mock naval battles with scaled-down ships and—apparently—performances on top of a floating theatre.
In those days, there was amusement everywhere in the park. When court visitors tired of the pageants & bullfights at the Buen Retiro (the pleasure palace of kings), they could commune with exotic birds in the aviary or talk to the animals in the zoo.
The park was ignored, then restored, then (somewhat) opened to the public in A.D. 1767 by Charles III. In the Peninsular Wars, it was occupied by Napoleon’s troops and badly damaged. It was restored again, and finally ceded to the people in the Glorious Revolution of 1868.