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Site of the Retiro and the Prado in Madrid

Date of Submission: 27/01/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Spain
State, Province or Region:
Community of Madrid
Coordinates: N40 24 55 W3 41 10
Ref.: 5977
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The property is located in Spain, in the region known as the Community of Madrid and, within it, in the na­tional and regional capital, Madrid.
In Madrid it has a central location within the current urban setting. 

The delimitation of the core zone proposed as world heritage coincides on the west, north and east with the former Real Sitio del Buen Retiro, created by Philip IV in the first third of the 17th century.

As a consequence of various events that unfolded in the 19th century starting with the War of Independence, the old site lost an area of 20 hectares to the south, maintaining 200 Ha in the present day. The part that was lost extends from the current limits of Retiro Park on Avenida de Menéndez y Pelayo, Avenida Ciudad de Barcelona, and reaches Calle Alfonso XII.

To the core zone there have been incorporated two monuments and urban areas that are considered sub­stantial for the justification of the property as being of Outstanding Universal Value. One of these is the old Hospital of San Carlos, designed by Francisco Sabatini, because it was one of the last buildings erected un­der Charles III, supplementing the enlightened renew­al of the monarchy in the 18th century and currently the home of the Reina Sofía Arts Centre, culminating the exceptional ensemble of museums along the Pa­seo del Prado. It houses one of the artistic icons of the 20th century, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. It also includes the adjacent building of the Atocha railway station, a mag­nificent example of 19th century railway architecture in iron, a work of Alberto de Palacio, the author of the Viz­caya Bridge that is included in the World Heritage List.

The demarcation of the property, clockwise start­ing from the northwest, begins at Plaza de Cibeles, the northern boundary goes along Calle de Alcalá, including the Plaza de la Independencia and the Gate of Alcalá, it continues east along Avenida de Menéndez y Pelayo, then south along the outer limits of Retiro Park, coinciding with a number of streets (Esteban Vil­legas, Andrés Torrej6n, Luis Camoens, Agustín Querol, José Anselmo Clavé) and the limits of the Isabella the Catholic Institute and the Astronomic Observatory to Calle de Alfonso XII, then it continues south to incor­porate the old Atocha railway station to Calle de Mén­dez Álvaro and the old Hospital of St. Charles, and the western boundary runs along Calle del Hospital, Calle de Atocha and Paseo del Prado, including the old Pal­ace of Villahermosa, which is the home of the Thys­sen-Bornemisza Museum.

The area of the protected core zone is 203.20 Ha.

The buffer zone has been demarcated considering the protection of the core zone, the valuation of significant viewpoints and visual points arising in the immediate urban surroundings, especially where there are sights as a result of the different topographic heights that are characteristic in Madrid and, specifically, in this central part forming a thoroughfare along Paseo de la Castellana, Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo del Prado.

At the same time and from a historical point of view, the buffer zone has been marked out considering the core zone as the place where two historical periods meet: the Madrid of the Austrias (Hapsburg dynasty) on the west, which was the existing city up to the 17th century, with the Wall of Philip IV acting as a bound­ary; and the grid-shaped urban developments of the

‘Ensanche de Castro’ that were added in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As a summary, the buffer zone runs on the north along the streets of Bárbara de Braganza and Jorge Juan, on the east along Narváez, Reyes Magos and Gutenberg, on the south along Méndez Álvaro, Murcia, Argumosa and Doctor Puga, and on the west along the streets of San Cosme y San Damián, Fúcar, Carrera de San Jer6nimo, Cedaceros, Alcalá and Barquillo.

The buffer zone covers an area of 167.34 Ha. The total area is 370.54 Ha.

The value of the unique urban landscape making up the Site of the Retiro and the Prado in Madrid, beyond the many material and immaterial property milestones that it contains, lies in the singular unity of the ensem­ble, as a mosaic showing the extraordinary assembly of its various elements throughout very different periods of history. The site provides an evident perceptual unity that is not only the result of the original creative con­ception; the continuity of a harmonic combination of factors also leads that perception to remain rooted in citizens’ sensitivity and awareness through the present day. Thus the spirit of the site, far from corresponding to a fossil image of times past, is vividly apparent in present-day cultural and social developments.

The origins of the site go back to the reign of the Catho­lic Kings, who transferred the old Monastery of Los Jerónimos, located on unhealthy terrain on the banks of the Manzanares River, to a place on higher ground, breezy and with good waters, on the eastern side of the city. Traditionally, the Hieronymite order sheltered members of the Spanish monarchy, hence the origin of the ‘Royal Room’ to which they withdrew in times of mourning and during Easter Week. And hence the name it was eventually given, Real Sitio del Buen Reti­ro (Royal Site of the Good Retreat). The interior style of the temple that is conserved is late Spanish Gothic, also known as Isabelline.

In 1630, the Count-Duke of Olivares was able to arouse the enthusiasm of King Philip IV to create a palace area in what were then the outskirts of Madrid, worthy of being the scenario of the Spanish Golden Age and of presenting, with great splendour, the royal magnif­icence and power of the greatest territorial empire of the age. The area was made up by buildings dedicated to the royal apartments and assembly halls, housing excellent and numerous works of art by prominent painters of the day which the sovereign himself, as a connoisseur, collector and patron of the arts, extended to nearly two thousand works of art. Other pavilions were destined to many court activities, services and facilities. The buildings were surrounded by the many parks and gardens that were created.

The architectural works, directed by Alonso Carbonell, who started out as an assistant to Juan Bautista Crescenzi, remained faithful to the style of the Austri­as (Hapsburgs), featuring the sobriety of the El Escori­al style with bricks and stalls and characteristic slate spires in the corner turrets of Flemish influence. The ensemble was erected in a short three-year period, with some shortfalls in terms of planning but, follow­ing the Spanish-Arabic tradition, the gardens were of particular relevance.

The creation of the gardens, with the collaboration of Tuscan and Flemish gardeners and experts from plac­es such as Seville and Genoa, was largely directed by by Cosme Lotti, a landscape designer from Florence specialising in the fountains and waterworks of the Great Duke of Tuscany who, after having worked at other Royal Sites of the Spanish monarchy, designed the Large Pond in Retiro Park. The gardens of the king and of the queen are likewise geometric in their de­sign, and most of the area followed a Baroque concep­tion, seeking to achieve a space of illusion, recreation and fantasy. A great variety of feasts and celebrations were held in the squares, in the different areas that were built and in the gardens with the purpose of en­tertaining the king, the courtiers and visitors.

These developments reflected the flourishing of cul­ture at the time, in various aspects such as the arts, literature and music, among others. There were many theatre performances of universally renowned works by Calderón de la Barca, Quevedo and Lope de Vega. Velázquez painted equestrian portraits of the royal family, also depicting historical episodes, religious mo­tifs and profane matters. Zurbarán likewise produced magnificent paintings, and there were many musical premieres and other concert performances.

The above events and many other cultural activities were supplemented with traditional forms of enter­tainment such as dances, open air games, bullfights and the naumachias staged in the Large Pond, built over an old lake from which a navigable canal issued, called the Mallo Canal, on which the boats of the roy­al family sailed prior to returning on another canal known as the Río Chico. The precinct also boasted a large square for festivities alongside the palace and a coliseum.

With the accession to the throne of Philip V, the first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty, a number of projects were developed, including a Parterre (a flower gar­den in the French style) and a new theatre. During the reign of his son, Ferdinand VI, and his wife, Bárbara de Braganza, musical performances, opera and dance came to the forefront, conducted and often performed by Carlo Broschi, a singer known as Farinelli, brought by Philip V to Madrid, a city where he was to remain for nearly 25 years.

The great monarch of the Spanish Enlightenment, Charles III, the brother and heir to Ferdinand VI, carried out a magnificent transformation of the western bound­ary of the Royal Site, by transforming the old meadows of the Hieronymite monks (Los Jer6nimos) and of Ato­cha into what was known as the Sal6n del Prado—a very representative area of the enlightened monarchy. In ef­fect, benefiting from the collaboration of renowned ar­chitects such as Juan de Villanueva, Francisco Sabatini, Ventura Rodríguez, and of José de Hermosilla, an engi­neer, a number of excellent projects and creations took shape, for instance the Sal6n del Prado itself, which comprised the Botanical Garden and its monumental gates, the Royal Studio of Natural History, which today is the Prado Museum, gardens, exquisitely designed foun­tains such as those of Apollo or of the Four Seasons, of Neptune, of Cibeles and the Four Fountains, also known as the Fuentecillas (little fountains).

The same monarch, who opened the Retiro Park to citi­zens, provided that they complied with certain rules of ur­banity and composure in their attire, was also behind oth­er valuable works such as the Real Fábrica de Porcela­nas del Buen Retiro (Royal Porcelain Factory of the Good Retreat), which took after the Capodimonte Factory that he had previously founded while he was King of Naples. Other works, such as the Hospital of San Carlos (drafted in the days of Ferdinand VI) and the Royal Astronomic Ob­servatory, were completed during the subsequent reign of his son Charles IV. Charles III is also the king under whom the famous Gate of Alcalá was built, currently in the Plaza de la Independencia and facing one of the main entranc­es of Retiro Park. The Palace of Villahermosa is from the same period, adjacent to the Salón del Prado gardens and today the home of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

The reign of Ferdinand VII, in the first third of the 19th cen­tury, during which the Spanish colonies in America be­came independent nations, had to face the arduous task of repairing the serious damages caused by the Napoleonic invasion, during which the Royal Site became a fortifica­tion and ammunition store used by the French troops. The king had many trees replanted and contributed to enrich the northeast section of the gardens [the so-called Res­ervado, a reserved place exclusively for use by the royal family] with many recreational constructions inspired by Romanticism and known as ‘Caprichos’ (fancies), many of which have made it to the present day. Among these are the Artificial Mountain, the Fisherman’s House, the Smuggler’s House, the Egyptian Fountain and what was once the Casa de Fieras (Menagerie).

Queen Isabella II transformed the so-called Campo Grande, until then reserved as royal hunting grounds, into a geometrical garden which would subsequently become landscape gardens in the English style. In 1865, owing to the condition of one of the areas as a result of the French invasion (in spite of half a century of efforts, which allowed most of the site to be recovered) and the economic want of the time, the queen sold part of the Retiro to the State, which in turn sold parts to private individuals, and this led to the commencement of the urbanisation of the District of Los Jerónimos enclosed by the Botanical Garden, the Salón del Prado and Calle de Alcalá.

At the same time, the execution of the Urban Expansion Plan of Madrid designed by Carlos María de Castro (the ‘Castro Plan’ approved in 1860) had commenced. This enlargement, which the city needed and which was be­ing discussed since ten years earlier (1850), the same as in Barcelona, took its inspiration from what Baron Haussmann had done in Paris, but without altering the existing city, that is, as an enlargement of the historical centre with regular blocks, normally squares with 100 m or 120 m sides, both in Madrid and Barcelona. They were laid out in a regular, isotropic fashion, without any roadway, geometric or functional hierarchies. In both cities the expansions followed the pattern used in the foundation of cities in the Americas, deriving from Philip II’s Laws of Indies in the 16th century, which represented a pivotal moment in the history of urban development.

The development of the District of Los Jerónimos, planned by the same architect and engineer, Carlos María de Castro, became consolidated along with the expansion itself, which had started from Calle de Al­calá and headed north; today it boasts a homogeneous, original architecture featuring the eclectic characteris­tics of Madrid, with brick façades in the Neo-Mudejar and classicist styles, along with balconies and miradors with plenty of decorative elements.

In the District of Los Jerónimos we find an ensemble representing the residential architecture of the aris­tocracy and affluent bourgeoisie, especially along Juan de Mena, Alfonso XI, Academia and Ruiz de Alarcón streets.

Following the 1868 Revolution and the dethronement of the queen, the site ensemble went into public hands and was managed by the Madrid City Council, bearing the new name of Park of Madrid. Since then, the pro­posed property has reflected, by way of its changing landscape, substantial episodes of the history of Ma­drid and Spain, such as the First Republic, the Restora­tion of Monarchy, the Second Republic, the final years of which overlapped with the Civil War, the Franco dic­tatorship and finally the reinstatement of democracy.

Throughout this long period and up to the present day, deci­sive contributions to the wealth of this property came by way of commemorative monuments such as the statues of Al­fonso XII by the pond and of General Martínez Campos, both being works of the sculptor Mariano Benlliure, the famous statue of the Fallen Angel, gardens, monumental gates such as that of the Parterre, of Spain and the one in Plaza de la Independencia, beautiful fountains such as that of the Artichoke and of the Galapagos, and wrought iron enclosing fences on the East and West.

The important buildings include the Palacio de Cristal, erected for the Philippines Exhibition of 1867 and inspired on the English hothouses of the day, and the Palacio de Velázquez, built for the National Mining Exhibition in 1883, both works by Velázquez Bosco, an architect who also de­signed the building that formerly housed the Ministry of Development (now home to the Ministry of Agriculture) on the southern boundary of the site. Opposite this building the imposing Atocha station was erected, being an example of railway architecture in iron, the work of Alberto de Palacio, who was also the designer of the Vizcaya Bridge.

Many institutional buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries are present in this urban landscape, such as the Museum of Anthropology, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Naval Museum, the Archive of Protocols, the Royal Spanish Acad­emy, the Madrid Stock Exchange and the Ritz Hotel. A par­ticularly relevant construction is the former Communication Palace in Plaza de Cibeles, which houses the Madrid City Hall and was the work of Antonio Palacios, who was also the author of other buildings in the immediate surroundings.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The property has a proven track record of historical durability that has overcome very difficult economic, administrative, social and political situations, some­times even having to withstand the disastrous conse­quences of devastating wars. Fortunately, there were other positive factors that contributed to the recovery and sustainability of the property. This sustainability is guaranteed by the public powers entrusted with the management of the property (in this case the Madrid City Council) and by the symbolic, affective and practi­cal value attached by society.

This singular urban landscape, with characteristics that make it a one of a kind ensemble, should be con­sidered as a unit that is traditionally integrated in the history and life of the Madrid Community and, in more extensive terms, as a nationally and internationally re­nowned property.

The characteristics of this evolving urban landscape, with its personality and its exceptional projection in the Madrid urban context, correspond to the definitions of the evaluation criteria for Outstanding Universal Value.

Criterion (ii): The Site of the Retiro and the Prado in Madrid constitutes a mosaic of exceptional landscapes and architectural el­ements, resulting from the evolution of the former Royal Site since the 17th century, a precinct that was to become an urban landscape designed and evolving over time in the middle of the capital. On the one hand, said evolution develops in the gardens, which follow a succession of baroque, neoclassical, romantic and landscape-focused patterns and, on the other hand, a number of architec­tural styles stand out, all of which are stringed together as a spatial, conceptual and perceptual unit.

Thus, starting with the late gothic of the old Monastery of Los Jerónimos, the characteristic architectural style of the Hapsburg dynasty in the Salón de Reinos that re­mains from the old palace, we go on to find a succes­sion of neoclassical buildings from the Enlightenment, notably the building that houses the Prado Museum, the architectural creations of 19th century exhibitions, the Palacio de Velázquez and the Palacio de Cristal, the Atocha railway station and the eclectic, neo-mudejar and classicist styles that are so characteristic in Ma­drid’s 19th century residential architecture.

The site marks the beginning of grid-patterned urban planning in the Castro Enlargement Plan, which devel­oped in parallel to the enlargement of Barcelona—both cities followed the formation patterns of cities in the Spanish territories of America and are great examples of urban planning in the 19th century.

Criterion (iv): The site is a highly representative example of an ur­ban landscape that evolves over the years, illustrating a number of significant periods in the history of Spanish monarchy, ever since the establishment of the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro (Royal Site of the Good Retreat) in 1630.

Thus, in the enclave of the Royal Site and facing the city centre of Madrid, which had developed since its foundation under Muslim rule up until the 17th century, King Charles III, in the 18th century, established an ambitious programme of scientific and social institutions that gave rise to extraor­dinary buildings such as the Royal Studio of Natural Histo­ry (today the Prado Museum), the Royal Botanical Garden and the Astronomic Observatory, all of which are works by Juan de Villanueva, the great neoclassical architect. The Salón del Prado constitutes an example of an urban passageway with a great many trees, also featuring many fountains that allude to nature, beauty and knowledge—all of this supplements and serves as an access way to the buildings, creating an exceptional landscape.

Other subsequent reigns and stages contributed to the conservation of this legacy from the Age of Enlighten­ment, setting the character for the rest of the urban land­scape that developed around the Retiro and the Prado. This landscape has continued to evolve, without relin­quishing its personality and its genuine substance, which are unique and irreplaceable.

Criterion (vi): The Real Sitio del Buen Retiro was a highly repre­sentative scenario of the universal culture of Spain’s Golden Age, which witnessed the literary and pictorial art of Calderón de la Barca, Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Velázquez and Zurbarán and featured many theatre and concert performances, festivals, bullfights and naumachias in the pond of Retiro Park—a pond that has reached the present day.

That age of culture continues today with a succession of museums, a unique phenomenon that starts with the Prado Museum, which began with the royal col­lections from the Salón de Reinos, it continues with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Arts Centre, the home of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, an icon of 20th century art. Retiro Park is a place that con­serves many elements from an urban landscape that has evolved for over three centuries and which con­tinues to feature many formal and informal cultural elements that arose in the cultural milieu promoted by Spanish monarchy.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Site of the Retiro and the Prado in Madrid fea­tures a conceptual and perceptual unity that has lasted nearly four centuries since it was created - it has been conserved, enhanced and recovered in difficult times, without altering the spirit of the site and its essential characteristics and spatial layout, as well as the sig­nificance and interrelation of its various contents and functions over time.

The developments that unfolded over the years have not detracted from its undeniable personality, nor from the unique character issuing from the large original core formed by the Monastery of Los Jerónimos and the Prado (meadow), the place of retreat enjoyed by the royal family, and the surrounding lands that were ac­quired in the early 17th century to configure the Royal Site of the Retiro as a place of leisure.

Without any substantial variations in size, shape and in the layout of the different zones, a walk through the site leads us to a well-structured world where one can per­ceive a striking harmonic balance in the various contri­butions from the successive ages. Not only the configu­ration of space but the harmony of the entire ensemble and the integration of its components render the pecu­liar ‘genius loci’ impregnating the area truly perceptible.

It is not a fixed image, frozen in time - instead it is bursting with life, enjoyed and loved by citizens and visitors. Its authenticity is inseparable from its identi­ty, the result of a strong, unique, dynamic personality, which conserves the essence and characteristic values of the site.

On the other hand, both the learned and the popular traditions are reflected in the many shows, artistic and literary performances and recreational activities ca­tering to adults and children alike.

The integrity of the property can be grasped in the spa­tial configuration of the ensemble, the layout of which has remained essentially unchanged. Part of the tem­ple and cloister from the Monastery of Los Jerónimos, i.e., from the original core that gave rise to the Real Si­tio del Buen Retiro, are conserved, plus two buildings from the original palace, namely the Salón de Reinos, where Philip VI established his Hall of the Throne, dec­orating it with magnificent paintings from his collec­tion, and the Dance Hall (today known as the Casón del Buen Retiro—the House of the Good Retreat), the old Large Pond, the Octogonal Pond and the general spatial layout.

Nearly all of the architectural and landscape contribu­tions made under Charles III during the Enlightenment remain in place, such as the Salón del Prado and the namesake Museum, the fountains of Cibeles, Apollo and Neptune, and the other monumental milestones that are included in the site—the Botanical Garden, the Hospital of San Carlos, at one of the extremes, and the Astronomic Observatory, drafted in the times of Charles III and executed under his son, Charles IV, and the Gate of Alcalá.

A great majority of the 19th century constructions have lasted to the present day, as well as many of the trees that were planted following the devastation caused by the Napoleonic troops, who installed their fortified headquarters in the Retiro. Under Ferdinand VII many ‘caprichos’ were made and, throughout that century, many passage ways were designed, gardens were embellished, wrought iron fences and gates were installed, fountains, monumental sculptures and oth­er items were created. The ensemble of all of these singular constructions remains in place, together with the greater part of the residential buildings of the Hi­eronymite quarter and other 20th century buildings, including the Communication Palace at Plaza de Cibeles, which currently houses the Madrid City Council.

Comparison with other similar properties

A study has been conducted of the 20 European cap­itals with world heritage properties. This provides an extensive panorama of the areas they cover and oth­er values. From this evaluation it may be underscored that there are historical centres with clear boundaries such as those of Rome, Warsaw, Valletta, Bern, Prague, Luxembourg, Tallinn, Riga and San Marino, and mon­Athens, Moscow, Brussels, Berlin and Istanbul.

However, there are two cases in which the property comprises multiple monuments, plazas, parks and gardens that can be found along an extensive fluvial landscape, namely Paris and Budapest. In this respect they may be similar to the property we are proposing in Madrid, where the landscape plays a major role but, unlike the other two cities, the ensemble is more uni­tary and compact, being as it is the result of the evolu­tion throughout nearly four centuries of a royal site that was conceived as a unit.

Amsterdam’s Canal District constitutes a singular case, because it too was created in the 17th century as an enlargement of the historic centre, surrounding it on the south and west. Starting from this district, in the 19th and 20th centuries there developed the con­temporary city laid out in the Zuid Plan (South Plan) by Berlage. Therefore, just as in Madrid, there is a link between the historical city and the enlargements that took place in the 19th century. Amsterdam is quite dif­ferent in that it is made up by domestic buildings of the 17th and 18th century bourgeoisie—these are quite ho­mogeneous and do not feature large monuments and the many parks and gardens that do appear in other ‘landscape heavy’ properties.

Museum Island in Berlin began to take shape in 1828 with the construction of the Altes Museum, a large ne­oclassical building designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and, together with the other four museums that were built in the rest of the 19th century and in the 20th cen­tury, it constitutes an ensemble symbolising, as a cre­ation taking from the Enlightenment, a tribute to the German archaeologists who pioneered in the creation of disciplines related to history, archaeology and muse­ums. Just like Madrid, the Island is a unitary ensemble, although it should be noted that the commencement of edification on the island occurred 40 years later than the interventions of Charles III and his architect, Juan de Villanueva, therefore the Berlin developments may have been influenced by them.

An analysis has been conducted of palace ensembles that have evolved over time, such as the old Palace of Diocletian in Split (the Roman Spalato), of which im­portant remains from the period have reached us—it was to become the historical centre of the city but even so it clearly conserves the layout of the original impe­rial precinct.

The Alhambra and the Generalife in Granada also fea­ture a degree of evolution, having incorporated the Palace of Charles V (of Germany, or Charles I of Spain) in the 16th century, and subsequently several 19th cen­tury homes within the precinct. And the neighbouring city of Aranjuez harmoniously blends together the roy­al gardens, parks, the course of the river and the ur­ban ensemble designed in the 18th century, where the palace area evolved slightly afterwards.

We must also mention the Palace of Caserta in the old kingdom of Naples because it is a precedent, having been started by Charles of Bourbon in 1752 with the intention of competing with Versailles, symbolising his kingdom and serving as the starting point for a new city that would be at the same level as other promi­nent European cities. The architect Vanvitelli fulfilled the king’s goal and emulated his two favourite palaces: Versailles and the Buen Retiro.

Not long after that, Charles of Bourbon succeeded his brother, Ferdinand VI, on the Spanish throne, and as Charles III he was the head of one of the greatest em­pires in history—despite the fact that the empire was crumbling he tried to modernise it following his Italian experience. Charles’ successor in Naples, Ferdinand IV, oversaw the development of a large industrial en­semble that included schools, housing for teachers and other facilities, serving as a forerunner of 19th century utopian socialism.

Another example of urban development following the pattern of a royal residence is the cultural land­scape of Sintra, formed in the 19th century based on the monastery that King Ferdinand II had transformed into a palace in a deeply eclectic style, featuring a park that brought together local and exotic species. Stately homes were built below the palace, creating a roman­tic and eclectic landscape that would be quite influ­ential in European landscape design. Its location is clearly set apart from the urban landscape in our pro­posal, because in the Portuguese case it is a cultural landscape set in a mountainous area that is not inte­grated within a city, whereas the Retiro and the Prado are right in the Madrid city centre.