Long before the area had been declared a national park, deer thrived in the pine forests of the region, as they do to this day. Whilst the park was founded in 1969, the area has long been recognised as a rich and abundant spot where wildlife has thrived.
A Wise choice
In 1262, Alfonso X – otherwise known as Alfonso the Wise – founded a royal hunting lodge to make the most of the abundance of game, also building a chapel, long since disappeared, on the banks of the Santa Olalla lagoon.
The Brave rewarding the Good
A generation later, in 1294, Alfonso’s son Sancho IV – “the Brave” – granted lands of the present-day national park to Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, known as “Guzmán the Good”, as a reward for his defence of the town of Tarifa in a desperate siege against the Moors who were fighting alongside Sancho’s rebellious brother.
He would go on to help capture Gibraltar, help by the Moors for almost 600 years.
Guzmán the Good founded the House of Medina Sidonia; these rich abundant lands remained in the hands of the family for the next six centuries.
The birth of Doñana
Several generations later in 1573, the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia, Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán – famous as the commander of the Spanish Armada that would unsuccessfully invade England in 1588 – moved to a country retreat sheltered amongst the pine and cork oak forests. He brought with him a wife, Ana de Silva y Mendoza.
The estate where they settled was named the “Coto de Doña Ana”, or the Doña Ana reserve, in honour of Duke Alfonso’s young wife, and from there the name Doñana was born.
Soon after, the original Doña Ana Palace was built, and the name became established to refer to both the palace and the surrounding forests.
A generous welcome
Following the deaths of Doña Ana and Duke Alfonso, the estate continued to pass down the Medina Sidonia line for generations, with various kings and noblemen visiting throughout the years to enjoy the region’s abundant game and verdant surroundings.
Kings Philip IV and Philip V, as well as the Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, and King Alfonso XII, are all known to have visited to enjoy the famous hospitality of the House of Medina Sidonia.
Francisco Goya, one of Spain’s most famous artists, stayed at the palace in 1797, a guest of his patron the 15th Duke of Medina Sidonia and his wife, the 13th Duchess of Alba.
The artist was clearly granted a generous welcome by his hostess. His famous portraits La Maja Vestida (“The Clothed Maja”) and La Maja Desnuda (“The Naked Maja”) are widely believed to have been painted at Doñana, with the latter rumoured to portray the Duchess.
Nature in the 19th century
By the late 19th century, Doñana’s fame as a sanctuary for migratory birds was beginning to become established. Spanish and British naturalists visited in numbers, writing books noting the strategic ecological importance of the area.
Whilst Doñana’s fame as a biodiversity hotspot was rising, the fortunes of the House of Medina Sidonia was moving fast in the other direction.
In 1901, the 19th Duke of Medina Sidonia was forced to sell the Coto de Doñana to settle huge debts that he had inherited from his father. And so, for the first time in 600 years, Doñana ceased to be held by the House of Medina Sidonia.
The purchaser was a sherry baron called William Garvey, who bought the estate – now abandoned and fallen into a state of ruin – in 1901.
The next few years saw the estate restored and the Palacio de las Nuevas built, before it passed to the hands first of William’s brother, and then to his niece Maria Medina Garvey and her husband the Duke of Tarifa.
In 1912, Maria Medina y Garvey commissioned the building of the Marismillas Palace, as well as a chapel in the Doñana Palace.
Doña María died in 1933, so the estate changed hands once again, to her sister Doña Blanca Medina y Garvey and her husband the Marquis of Boghetto.
Gaining fame for biodiversity
With the area gaining increasing fame as an ecological wonder, the 1950s saw a wave of visits by scientists to Doñana. And in 1964 the Spanish government, driven by a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund, bought 6794 hectares of land and founded the Doñana Biological Station.
Finally, in 1969 The Doñana National Park was created covering an area of 32,000 hectares. A decade later, the boundaries of the park were extended and the total protected terrain covered 54,521 hectares.
Exploring Doñana National Park is one of the main highlights for guests staying at Kukutana, our family-owned farmhouse located in the park. We offer all-inclusive experiences for our guests, including jeep tours through the park.
I’m struggling to put into words everything that we have experienced these past days, from the very first moment it has all been exceptional. The team and the hosts are marvellous, the experiences unforgettable - we will cherish these days forever.
A unique experience surrounded by friends and hosted by this wonderful family who have poured their dreams and love into this project. The most memorable G&T in history! We will be back soon.
The magic of southern Spain and the warmth with which we have been received have made these days unforgettable. What an incredible project you have created!
Thank you for the most magical few days in this piece of Paradise! It was the most memorable time and holiday that we have ever had. The food was delicious, the horses were beautiful and cannot believe that we saw a Lynx! We cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Hope to see you again soon and best luck for the creation and adventures that you plan.
J&M.H United Kingdom