Monasterio de El Escorial, Madrid

Category: Madrid

El Escorial, a monastery located approximately 30 miles northwest of Madrid in the shadow of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains, is one of the country’s most treasured and beloved sites and a must-see attraction for visitors and tourists. Below we have compiled some interesting facts about this architectural wonder, including its history and characteristics and a short description of some of the rooms and museums you’ll have access to as part of this amazing tour.

History of Monasterio de El Escorial

The monastery of El Escorial was built as a monument to commemorate the Spanish victory over the French in the battle of Saint Quentin on August 10, 1557, the feast day of Saint Lawrence. King Filipe II, who presided over the country at the time, is said to have chosen the site for El Escorial, a site that sits approximately 3000 feet above sea level, and he was very involved in the oversight of the project.

The architect chosen by King Filipe II to design the project was Juan Bautista de Toledo. However, following his death in 1567, his assistant, Juan de Herrera, continued the work until the monastery’s completion. Construction of the project spanned an amazing 21 years, from 1563 to 1584, not counting the many additions and improvements that were implemented in the many years that followed.

Characteristics

For several years following the completion of El Escorial, the monastery was the largest building in the world. The rectangular plant of this colossal granite structure measures a whopping 680 x 528 feet, and the four towers in the corners are 180 feet high. As if that were not enough, the two campaniles are 236 feet high, and the cupola of the basilica is 302 feet high. Additionally, the complex as a whole has some 14.9 miles of hallways and corridors.

El Escorial monastery is constructed around a main axis that extends eastward from the main façade through several important rooms in the building, including the Library, King’s Courtyard, Basilica and the Palace of Felipe II. Additionally, the complex contains a Monastery, Seminary, School and the King’s Pantheon beneath the lofty altar of the Basilica. The adornment of El Escorial was entrusted to prominent Italian painters of the time, who made major contributions to rooms such as the Gallery of Battles and the Library, among others. Many famous works hang proudly in the Sacristy and Chapter Rooms, featuring paintings by famous names such as Bosch, El Greco, Velasquez and Titian. In total there are over 1,600 paintings and more than 500 frescoes decorating the walls and ceilings of El Escorial, which is also home to a Museum of Painting and Museum of Architecture, explained below.

Museum of Painting. The Museum of Painting within the El Escorial is home to an awesome collection of works from the Italian, Spanish and other European schools of art, including the marvelous work Cavalry, by Van der Weyden, the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, by El Greco and several Flemish tapestries.

Architec ture Museum. The Architecture Museum is located in the basement of El Escorial, displaying the various materials, machinery, tools, cranes, and plans used in the construction of the Monastery as well as scale models.

Other rooms to explore when visiting El Escorial include the Palace of Felipe II, which is still used by Spanish Kings when visiting the Monastery; the Gallery of Battles, commemorating the significant battles of King Felipe II; Palace of the Bourbons, a series of splendidly decorated apartments; the Library, one of the most important historical library collections in the world; and the Royal Pantheon, the burial place for the kings of Spain from Carlos I to the present day, with the exception of Felipe V and Fernando VII.