San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain – March 27, 2010
Mom, dad, Leslie, Hillary, Tyler, and I decided today was a good day to visit El Escorial. It is only about 43 kilometers (26.7 miles) from our home in Pozuelo, Spain. El Escorial is another of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain.
The scale of this monastery and one-time kings’ palace is stunning. The complex can easily be seen from a distance of 15 to 20 miles away. After arrival, one is dwarfed by the size of the structure.
After we parked, we walked around the town a little bit to kill time. The museum at El Escorial was not yet open.
The full name of this site is Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial). Regardless, it is most often referred to simply as El Escorial. The construction of this monastery and palace began in 1562. The entire building is four stories. There are multiple courtyards within the main walls. The year 1584 marked the laying of the last stone and 1595 marked the consecration of the church.
One reason for the construction of El Escorial was as a fitting tomb for King Charles V. He reigned over Spain from 1516 to 1556. Charles V was also the Holy Roman Emperor (1519 – 1556); King of Germany (1520 – 1556); King of Italy (1530 – 1556); Archduke of Austria (1519 – 1521); and Titular Duke of Burgandy Lord of The Netherlands (1506 – 1556). That is quite the résumé! To this end, the Pantheon of Kings was built. In the main room of the Pantheon, which is directly below the Basilica altar, there are eight walls. Seven of those walls contain a total of 28 niches. Today, 26 of the niches are full of marble sepulchers containing the remains of various kings and queens of Spain. There are only two niches remaining. All of the polished marble and other decorations make this a very striking room.
Opposite the Pantheon of Kings is El Panteón de Infantes (The Pantheon of Infants). This is where princes and princesses are buried. While it is a very beautiful area, it is nowhere near as striking as the Pantheon of Kings. Possibly the most striking tomb here is that of Don Juan de Austria. On top of his tomb is a marble statue of him lying down, holding a sword. The work and detail are truly amazing.
Another stunning portion of El Escorial is the Royal Library. Above the beautifully carved wooden bookshelves, are paintings along all four walls. Above the paintings, the curved, vaulted ceiling is also adorned with paintings. They are all magnificent works of art in their own right. The Royal Library boasts a collection of 40,000 printed books and another 5,000 manuscripts.
The self-guided tour of El Escorial winds through a lot of the palace. One of the most striking rooms is the Hall of Battles. This hall is 55 meters (180 feet) long by 6 meters (19.5 feet) wide and 8 meters (26 feet) tall. The walls are adorned with paintings of many of the famous battles of Spain.
The Basilica within El Escorial is every bit as massive as the one in Washington, D.C.; however, I believe the one at El Escorial is much more ornate. That may be because it dates from the late 16th century.
Within the walls of the palace and monastery, there is also a very extensive art museum. On display are very famous paintings such as The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion by El Greco, 1580-83.
Based on the number of things one is able to tour, El Escorial is very definitely worth the time and money to visit.