San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid

Category: Madrid

If you’re traveling to the Madrid region of Spain in the upcoming months, you should definitely try to squeeze in a visit to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A town and municipality in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is located just 47 kilometers (29 miles) from the Spanish capital, situated in the southeastern portion of the Sierra de Guadarrama, at the foot of Mount Abantos and Las Machotas. Locals refer to the town as “El Escorial de Arriba” to differentiate it from the neighboring village of El Escorial, also known as “El Escorial de Abajo.” The town occupies an area of roughly 56 square kilometers (22 square miles) and has a population of nearly 18,000.

Monastery of El Escorial photo creditThe history of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is forever linked with the construction of its most famous landmark, the Monastery of El Escorial. According to historical records, in 1558, Philip II appointed a commission to find a proper place for the monastery and the architects who would build it. In 1561, the commission decided that the area now known as San Lorenzo de El Escorial met the physical conditions for the project, as its abundance of forests, quarries and game reserves, the quality of its water and its place in the geographic center of Spain, at the foot of Mount Abantos, made it a perfect region in which to build a town around this now historic landmark.

The Monastery of El Escorial is not only the most famous landmark in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, but one of the most significant Renaissance monuments in all of Spain. It was originally designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, but following his death in 1557, the project was placed into the capable hands of Juan de Herrera, who imposed a new architectural style. Together with the grounds on which it is located, the monastery occupies a whopping 33,327 square meters (358,729 square feet). The structure boasts an impressive 16 patios, 88 sources, 15 cloisters, 13 oratories, 86 stairs, 9 towers, 1,200 doors, and 2,673 windows, and its main façade stretches 207 meters (679 feet) in length. Among the most significant rooms of the monastery are the Pantheon of Kings, the Royal Basilica and the Royal Library. Since the 16th century, the Monastery of El Escorial has been described as the “eighth wonder of the world,” and has more recently been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

In addition to the Monastery of El Escorial, the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is also home to many other important sites of interest, including the Valle de los Caidos, or “Valley of the Fallen.” A catholic basilica and monumental memorial, it was built between 1940 and 1959 by order of the dictator Francisco Franco to honor and bury those who died during the Spanish Civil War in the latter part of the 1930s. Other important sites in the town include the “Chair of Philip II,” and actual chair on which, according to legend, the King sat as he watched the progress of the construction of the Monastery El Escorial; Del Castañar, an historic farm with a number of interesting environmental attractions; Royal Colosseum of Carlos III, built in the 18th century and popularly known as the Bombonera theatre; and the Park of the Casita, a popular green space shared between the municipalities of El Escorial and San Lorenzo de El Escorial, with very lush and diverse gardens designed in the neoclassical Stupinigi style.