Visit to El Escorial Monastery, near Madrid, Spain
El Escorial monastery is an ideal day trip destination from Madrid, Spain. We arrived at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial from Segovia during our onward journey to Madrid. It is located south of Segovia and North West of Madrid. After the night halt at Segovia and a scrumptious breakfast we were fully charged for another day of site-sight-seeing of Spain. The plan for the day was El Escorial to Toledo which is further south of Madrid and then drives back northwards to Madrid for night halt. Segovia to El Escorial, a distance of 55kms we covered in cool 45 minutes!
El Escorial is one of the Spanish royal sites and plays multiple roles of a monastery, royal palace, museum, and school. There are 2 monuments of Escorial spaced 5kms from one another. We skipped visiting the royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat. We chose to spend couple of hours at the royal monastery.
While the visit itself was good I still regret including it in my itinerary.
And that is because they did not allow photography. Today when I look back and try to recollect what I had seen my mind is blank. While I spent 10euros per person i couldn’t bring anything back and that is so disppointing. I wouldn’t recommend visit to El Escorial to tourists short on time or cash.
History of El Escorial
Philips II built this monument to honor his father Charles V’s wish for a religious foundation in which he was to be buried beside his wife, Isabella of Portugal. They chose the site at the foot of the Guadarrama Mountains, 2 km from the town of El Escorial. The monastery is also called as The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial as it was dedicated to San Lorenzo de la Victoria, in fulfillment of a vow made by Philip II to atone for the destruction of a church dedicated to St Lawrence at the Battle of San Quintín in 1557.
Why I chose to visit El Escorial
- It is one of the largest religious establishments in the world (about 206m by 161m). Construction of El Escorial began in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, a Renaissance Spanish architect.
- Most impressive is the El Escorial library, founded by Philip II. This museum houses a rare collection of more than 4,700 manuscripts.
- Add to these highlights the fact that it was declared a UNESCO World heritage site 1984 made me include this site in my itinerary.
Architecture of El Escorial
The royal monastery is a mammoth monument of really huge dimensions! The first glance of it stupefied me. You need a good wide angle lens to capture it all in one frame. The façade doesn’t have any major sculpted works yet in its plain looks the royal monastery manages to leave a lasting impression on your minds! The gray granite exteriors make it look more like a fortress than a monastery. Inside there are several rooms housing several different themes.
Here and there walking through the passages, where security guards weren’t present and where other tourists too were clicking I have taken some pics. But these pictures don’t give any idea of the splendor or somberness of the interiors of the rooms.
I particularly remember the Royal Pantheon that is the resting place of 26 kings and queens. There was an eerie silence inside. The tourists were all quiet! The Kings of Spain of 4 centuries rest in peace here and only those queens who have mothered the Kings rest here. Rick Steves mentioned this as the rotting room in his book!
Other Rooms to See
The Museum of Tapestries was colorful I vaguely remember though none of the works displayed there is in my memory. The Museum of Paintings was burst of colors. The Kings’ apartments are all filled with paintings. The royal gardens looked so well maintained, reminded me of the castle of Segovia.
Finally, the library’s collection consists of more than 40,000 volumes! It is located in a great hall 54m in length, 9m wide and 10m tall with marble floors and beautifully carved wood shelves. This library in those days was a Renaissance statement of power, majesty, prowess, and intellectual world leadership. It was designed for both the preservation of the old and discovery of the new. I wished I could take some pics here.
The Basilica here has stunning interiors. Again no pics. The altar is well decorated. I read up at wiki that: Behind the altar is a three-tiered altar screen, made of red granite and jasper, nearly twenty-eight meters tall, adorned with gilded bronze statuary! Not to be disappointed I have the pic of two towers flanking the church.
Timings of visit to El Escorial, Madrid
The Monastery and Royal Palace
October – March: 10,00 – 18,00
April – September: 10,00 – 20,00
Tickets for El Escorial, Madrid
Tickets can be purchased at site. 10 euros per person. There was some student concession for kids.
#Elescorial trivia1. This monument is considered the 8th wonder of world by Spaniards
#Elescorial trivia2. The plan of El Escorial is an inverted griddle pattern. The symbolic side to this is that the gridiron was used as the dreadful instrument of torture when St. Lawrence was martyred (according to a well-known legend, he was slowly roasted!).
#Elescorial trivia3. The estimated doors more than 1,200, windows going over 2,500 and the corridors running up to 16 km inside the palace!
#disappointing travelfact1. No photography allowed. I wish they allow photography inside excluding just the Royal Pantheon
#disappointing travelfact2 Yet another disappointing fact is that it was hard to find budget friendly restaurants