El Escorial, Spain
El Escorial, 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.
The full name of this site is The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Regardless, it is most often referred to 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 last stone was laid in 1584 and the church was consecrated in 1595.
One reason for the construction of El Escorial was as a fitting tomb for King Charles V. 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 with 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 the Pantheon of the Infantes. This is where princes and princesses are buried. While it is a very beautiful area, it is no where 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 amazing portion of El Escorial is the Royal Library. Above the beautifully carved wooden book shelves, 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 also 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 is every bit as massive as the one in Washington, D.C.; however, I believe this one is much more ornate. That may be because it dates from the late 16th century.
Within the walls 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.