THE CITY of Madrid will appear on the list of world heritage sites for the first time after its Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado was awarded the coveted status by UNESCO.
The tree-lined avenue of the Paseo del Prado is one of the main attractions in the capital with six museums along its length including Spain’s most famous art museum, El Prado, the Botanical Gardens next door and Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza opposite.
Every visitor to Madrid will agree with residents in the capital that the Retiro is one of the finest city parks found in all of Europe.
Its 118 hectares include woodland areas, a boating lake, a rose garden, a sports centre and a glass palace which hosts art exhibitions.
On any evening the park is filled with people having picnics, meeting to do sports or just having a snooze beneath the shade of a leafy tree.
The Paseo del Prado was described as “one of the first boulevards inside the city limits of all European cities and capitals…where all citizens, without distinction of class, could enjoy leisure and a stroll”, said Spain’s foreign ministry in a statement.
Unesco included the ‘Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro’ as ‘a landscape of Arts and Sciences’ on the World Heritage list with this description of the site: “Located at the urban heart of Madrid, the 200-hectare cultural landscape evolved since the creation of the tree-lined Paseo del Prado avenue, a prototype of the Hispanic alameda, in the 16th century.
“The avenue features major fountains, notably the Fuente de Cibeles and the Fuente de Neptuno, and the Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of the city, surrounded by prestigious buildings. The site embodies a new idea of urban space and development from the enlightened absolutist period of the 18th century.
“Buildings dedicated to the arts and sciences join others in the site that are devoted to industry, healthcare and research. Collectively, they illustrate the aspiration for a utopian society during the height of the Spanish Empire.
“The 120-hectare Jardines del Buen Retiro (Garden of Pleasant Retreat), a remnant of the 17th-century Buen Retiro Palace, constitutes the largest part of the property displaying different gardening styles from the 19th century to the present.
“The site also houses the terraced Royal Botanical Garden and the largely residential neighbourhood of Barrio Jerónimos with its rich variety of 19th- and 20th-century buildings that include cultural venues.”
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed the news tweeting “Deserved recognition for a space in the capital that enhances our historic, artistic and cultural legacy”.
Meanwhile, Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida tweeted “Proud of our city, and happy for Spain and the legacy of its capital”.
The decision to award the two World Heritage Status was announced on Sunday after winning the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries.
The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.
It means that Spain now has 49 World Heritage Sites on the list, the third highest number after Italy and China.
But there was some controversy over the selection.
Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which advises Unesco, argued that there were “no historic justifications” for the two sites to be linked together as one entry on the list.
But Andrés Perelló, Spain’s ambassador to Unesco, Andrés Perelló argued: “El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.”