Indeed, not a bit about it is ordinary, but instead, everything is simply fascinating when last week I finally visited the place.
It took 21 long years to complete this 16th-century edifice, sprawling on a vast expanse of land within the San Lorenzo de Escorial Town. I’m guessing it covers an area equivalent to a few city blocks.
Without a doubt, El Escorial is such a magnificent monument, both inside and out. Not only is it a monastery, but a palace as well, and one fit for the King of Spain no less.
El Escorial is a prime example of how grand the Spanish Renaissance era was. Pomp and lavishness are apparent in its interior, which is expected since it was a royal residence. It is complete with the friars’ garden, museum, hundreds of regal rooms, a spacious courtyard, reliquaries, and even a school. I thought its biblioteca real (library) is really impressive – the interior seems to glow because of its golden ceiling.
Suffice it to say, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the perfect day trip destination, not only because of its incredible monastery but also because the town is just 45 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid. If only for its proximity, you must consider it for your next exciting Spanish adventure.
1. Mount Abantos, the town, and the Monastery
The location of the monastery is calming, like the town itself, and the whole setting is like a quiet and rustic countryside. The mountains are towering heaps of nature, particularly Abantos of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Abantos seems to look beyond the town and into the monastery. The town, the mountains nearby, and the many places of interest, including the monastery itself, make San Lorenzo de El Escorial an ideal place of retreat.
2. Monastery, West Portion
3. Royal Basilica and the Courtyard of the Kings
I peer through the arch column to marvel at the basilica and the Patio de los Reyes, must-see sections of the monastery. The church is decorated with a number of sculptures of saints, biblical figures, and kings, and other valuable religious items, all of which are creations of Spanish and European Renaissance artists.
4. Old Testament Kings
5. Royal Basilica, Interior
6. The Pantheon
7. The Magnificent Palace Gardens
Philip II instructed the creation of a vast garden, which served as a place to soothe the mind. Not only did he care for the gardens, but everything inside the monastery as well. He was a patron of the Renaissance and so he commissioned the palace decorator to fill the place with thousands of impressive works of art.
8. The Monastery’s Garden Pond
Beside the Palace Garden is the pond, the sight of which is breathtaking. Needless to say, all the features of the monastery contributed to making it as the most important monument in the San Lorenzo de El Escorial Town. A major creation of the Renaissance era, it was declared by UNESCO in 1984 as a World Heritage Site.
9. Casas de Oficios
Near the grounds of the monastery are a series of buildings, called the Casas de Officios or the House of Trades, with narrow streest in between., The town’s tourism office is housed in one of the casas, along Calle Grimaldi, and is across the main entrance of the monastery.
10. Royal Coliseum of Charles III
El Real Coliseo de Carlos III, at Calle Floridablanca 20, is one of the town’s major centers of arts and performances. Currently, it is a venue for theater acts and concerts. Named after the former Spanish ruler Charles III, it used to be called the Lope de Vega Cinema.
11. Ayuntamiento de El Escorial
12. Casa de Cultura
The primero Casa de Officio houses the Casa de Cultura of El Escorial. The latter is popular with town residents and tourists who love to participate in an afternoon of cultural activity. Crafts, arts, and cultural events are regularly held here.
13. Casita del Infante
The Infant´s Little House, also known as the Casita de Arriba, was originally intended as the infant child Gabriel de Bourbon, Carlos III´s brother. It also acted as a music building and was built with a concert room designed in a way that any performance bould be heard both within and outside the building.
14. Casita del Principe
The facade of La Casita del Principe. Of neoclassical design, it was a recreational building of then Asturias Prince Carlos IV. It later on served as a residence of the king and his royal family in El Escorial during the 19th Century.
15. Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia
The doors of Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia were wide open when I got there, which allowed me to have a glimpse of its interior and say my prayers. Resembling a chapel due to its small size, Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Sra de Gracia is one of the few town churches of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
How to Go
Go to Moncloa where you can buy tickets on the bus. Take 661 if you want to reach the town via Galapagar; and 664 if you want to pass via Guadarrama. Both 661 and 664 bus tickets to El Escorial costs 4.20 euros. [I intend to take the 664 bus next time since it stops by the gates of The Valley of the Fallen. However, from the gates, be ready to walk some 3 miles to the site, which is more or less an hour].
Basic Fee: 10 euros
Visiting days: Everyday except Mondays
Monastery opens at 10AM
Advice: Keep your ticket on hand. Staff at every section of the monastery may require visitors to present their tickets before they are let in. Don’t bring large bags or backpacks if possible; otherwise you will have to keep them in a locker at the cloakroom while touring.
Taking photos is not allowed in El Escorial´s interior areas. Attempting to shoot is a frustrating exercise as staff members are relentless in preventing any stolen shots. As for the above pictures of the cathedral altar and the Pantheon, I borrowed them from my gutsier tour mate.