History of the botanical garden
Carlos III, known as the enlighted monarch, decided to create a complex dedicated to science and research in Madrid. The botanical gardens was part of this effort, as it was also the case of the building that hosts today the Prado Museum and which at that time (18th century) was home to the Museum of natural history. This scientific spirit remains today and as a proof for this the gardens are managed by a scientific institution, the CSIC (Spain´s national scientific institution).
Spain has played a fundamental role in the development of botany and medicine. If we look back into history, the discovery of America brought important consequences to Europe. The most obvious ones were the introduction of potato, tomato and maize, but discoveries were not limited to these and the XVIth century witnessed many studies and as a matter of fact, an expedition by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés was the first natural history expedition ever sent out by a government. Fernandez de Oviedo wrote “Historia general y natural de las indias” as an outcome of that expedition.
The XVIIth century brought times of decadence for Spain and the establishment of the botanical garden came late (if compared to efforts in other European countries) and had to wait till 1755, year in which the official word was given for the creation of the botanical garden in Madrid. A few botanist like José Quer and José Ortega were key in the development of the gardens at their original location
It was not till 1781 that the gardens were moved to their current location. Before this move happended, the gardens started to heat with coal the greenhouse of exotic plants and this brought the capacity to raise tropical and subtropical plants in Madrid´s climate.
The move of the gardens to their current location illustrates the importance given to research at the time of Carlos III. Botany was the king´s best hobby. Great care was put to the design of the botanical gardens, and the teaching of botany was incorporated in the design with the creation of the “Escuelas botanicas” . The budget increased and this was felt in the increase in number of plants.
During the last quarter of the XVIIIth century Spain sponsored 4 important expeditions which included a strong botanical character to its colonies. Spain could have become a super power in botany but the XIX century brought difficult years for science in Spain and much of what was accomplished was left aside and almost forgotten. With the Spanish war of independence in 1808 the gardens were abandoned and it was only in 1857 that a new green house was refurbished. In 1939 the gardens became part of the CSIC.