The Landscape Guide


Charles V of Spain and his gardens

San Jeronimo at San Yuste

Charles V., who in this garden abandoned himself entirely to Moorish influence, in another quarter yielded his Spanish territory as entirely to the influence of the Italian Renaissance. The first attempt at this art on Spanish soil was the palace that the emperor built on the Alhambra hill; but it is in ruins, and we cannot glean anything to speak of from such garden sites as we now see. Charles had spent the first months of his happy married life at the Alhambra, and always hoped to see this fine place again. We know the condition of the town in those days; and of the lovely country houses with their cool gardens and rushing waters. Navigero, who was the follower and friend of the prince, has given a very charming description of them. In the next year Charles began the erection of a new palace which was altogether Italian in type. The villas of the period, especially the Villa Madama, must have directly influenced the ground-plan of this palace: the central building was in a square with a great circular pillared court in the middle, and there is no doubt that such plans played an important part in the minds and memories of theorists and artists alike. They would think of Leon Battista Alberti’s counsels, Raphael’s ground-plans, Serlio’s villa designs. Whether the immense court of the imperial palace was left quite empty and only used for tilting and shows, or was partly planted and adorned with flowers, must remain an open question. It calls to mind the central court for games at Poggio Reale, which a Spanish prince built on Italian soil. Charles never succeeded in holding festivals here, and he never saw the building, which remained a ruin. Evidently, however, some work was done on the gardens, which apparently were planned to ascend in terraces.

In the early forties there seem to have been preparations made for a visit from the emperor. At that time Luis de Mendoza had a sort of fountain arrangement set up at the ascent to the castle (Fig. 288), and it has been preserved as a memorial of these parts of

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the place. Close under the Moorish Torre de Justicia stands an elaborate wall, divided into sections by six Doric pillars. having between the second and fifth a highly decorated fountain attached to the wall, and a small basin in front into which water is spurted through the masks of three river gods. In the reign of Charles this approach to the Alhambra was the only one: we know its beautiful decoration, but not the places it went through. It was Philip II. who made the convenient carriage road which was planted, no doubt by his orders, with dwarf elms, for he was the first to introduce the tree into Spain and liked to have it widely spread. Laborde in the nineteenth century speaks in praise of this approach, planted with elm-trees. Philip also planted the fine park of the Alhambra with elms, though the later plantation with the trees we see to-day dates only from the time of Wellington. The pretty garden sites on the terrace at Torre de la Vela perhaps belong to the earlier time (Fig. 289).
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In every one of his kingdoms Charles V. was a great lover and patron of the garden. With all men of his generation he shared an intense interest in botany, and when he retired, sick and weary of rule, into the monastery of San Jeronimo at San Yuste, he devoted the time he had left in. this world either to mechanical amusements or to gardening. The weary monarch had built for his own use a modest though not undignified dwelling on the southern slopes of the hill below the cloister. His bedroom was touching the church, so that from his bed he could participate in the Mass through a glass door. But his work-room looked towards the south, and was completely surrounded by the unfinished garden which he had made himself, while over it were the lovely hills and slopes of Verga de Plasencia, covered with chestnut-trees, mulberries, nuts, and almonds.

Close to these rooms, which were reached by a corridor dividing the north from the south, there was a large garden terrace : half of this made a sort of hanging garden over the ground floor of the house which abutted on to the side of the hill, and Charles converted the terrace into garden ground, and planted it with oranges, citrons, and sweet-scented herbs. He had obtained from the most distinguished botanists of the time the plants that grew in every part of his mighty dominions, and these he had had cultivated in all the main centres: Vienna, the Netherlands, and Spain. In the middle of the terrace there was a fine vivarium, and trout were caught and kept in the mountain brooks, and used for the royal table on fast-days. At the other end of the corridor on the west there was a similar terrace, and hence one reached the cloister courts on the same level. A gently sloping path led from the east terrace to the lower garden. It was said that the emperor, being so ill, did not want to go up any more steps, but the disinclination for terrace steps in the early Renaissance gardens may have had something to do with it.

The lower garden had been the orchard of the monastery, which the monks ceded to Charles, making a new one for themselves at the north-east of the cloister. The emperor had a wall to protect him from curious eyes and undesirable visitors, and a door that let him through to the monks' new garden whenever he pleased. The lower orchard showed exuberant vegetation, with ornamental trees and fruit, and the trunks of citrons and oranges which reached right up to the windows of the emperor’s room, and delighted him with their colour and perfume. In his last illness he enjoyed the pure pleasures of this world, and on good days he would walk through the gate of the high-walled cloister garden, and step out on a level path into a park full of ancient oaks and chestnuts, beneath which, on the green lawn, pastured the cattle, kept for milk in the royal household. There were little oratories along the path, and a hundred paces off was the hermitage of Belem, where the emperor rested awhile the day before he entered the cloister.