Royal Monastery and Palace of the Escorial, El Escorial Monasterio de San Lorenzo
After the battle of Saint-Quentin on August 10 1557 (St Lawrence's Day), in which Spanish troops defeated the French, Philip II vowed to build a monastery dedicated to St Lawrence. After careful preparations, including the consultation of astrologers, the little town of San Lorenzo was chosen as the site of a huge complex which was to include a monastery, a church, a royal palace, a mausoleum, a library and a museum and was conceived as a monument to Philip and his reign. Work began on April 23, 1563 and was completed on September 13, 1584 in the presence of Philip himself, who had closely supervised the whole operation. The architects were Juan Bautista de Toledo, who died in 1567, and Juan de Herrera. The decoration was the work of numerous Spanish painters, and a major part was also played by Italian masters, including Pellegrino Tibaldi, Luca Giordano and the sculptors Pompeo and Leone Leoni.
Royal Monastery and Palace of the Escorial Map
Address: Paseo de José Antonio, Spain
Opening hours: Apr 1 to Sep 30: 10am-6pm; Closed: Mon
Oct 1 to Mar 31: 10am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Oct 1 to Mar 31: 10am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Epiphany (3 Kings' Day ) - Christian (Jan 6), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), National Day - Spain (Oct 12), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Constitution Day - Spain (Dec 6), Good Friday - Christian, Maundy (Holy) Thursday - Christian, Easter - Christian
Entrance fee: Adult Admission Cost, Child 4 & under Free
Monasterio de San Lorenzo Exterior
From the outside, the Escorial - a massive pile, built of grayish white granite in the form of a rectangle 204m/669ft long by 161m/528ft wide - looks more like a fortress or a barracks than a monastery. Although conceived in the spirit of 16th century Italian classicism, it shows the beginnings of the Spanish Baroque school. At the core of the whole complex is the church with its twin towers and its 90m/295ft high dome. To the west of this is the Patio de los Reyes, to the south the cloister, with the sacristy and the chapter rooms, to the east and north the royal palace. Altogether the Escorial has 16 courtyards, 2,673 windows, 1,250 doors, 86 staircases and 88 fountains, and the corridors have a total length of 16km/10mi.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo Puerta Principal
The main entrance to the Escorial, the Puerta Principal, is on the west side, opening off the main square, the Lonja. Over the doorway are St Lawrence's gridiron, the arms of the Habsburgs and a statue of St Lawrence by Juan Bautista Monegro.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorio - Court of the Kings
The Puerta Principal leads into the Patio de los Reyes. This is dominated by the facade of the church, with the statues of Old Testament kings from which it takes its name, and by the two massive towers.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Church
The interior of the church, which has frescoes by Luca Giordano, is notable for its austerity and monumentality. The dome over the crossing admits a flood of cold light which illuminates the precious materials used in Herrera's 30m/100ft high retablo. Approached by a flight of 17 steps, this is a four-story structure of jasper and red marble, with pictures by the Italian painters Zucaro and Tibaldi and statues of Fathers of the Church and Evangelists by Pompeo and Leone.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial - Leoni
The Leonis were responsible for the bronze monuments of the two greatest rulers of Spain in niches in the presbytery of the Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. On the left, facing the high altar, is a gilded bronze statue of Charles V, kneeling, with his wife Isabella, his daughter Maria and his sisters Eleanor and Maria; on the right Philip II is kneeling with his three wives (Anne of Austria, Isabelle of Valois and Maria of Portugal) and his son Don Carlos.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Panteón de los Reyes
Immediately underneath the church is the Panteón de los Reyes, the burial vault of the Spanish kings. A domed octagonal structure originally designed by Herrera was enlarged by Juan Gómez de Mora and completed in 1654. The black marble and gilded bronze decoration, by Giovanni Baptista Crescenti, reflects the Baroque taste of the period. On the left-hand side are identical granite sarcophagi containing the remains of almost all the Spanish kings from Charles V onwards, together with Isabella II; on the right are the queen mothers and Isabella II's husband Francisco de Asís.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Panteón de los Infantes
Below the sacristy and the chapter rooms is the burial vault of Spanish princes and princesses and queens whose children did not succeed to the throne.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Sacristy
In the south aisle of the church is a doorway leading through the ante-sacristy (with a ceiling painting by Nicola Granelo) into the sacristy, which contains more than 40 valuable pictures. Among them is Claudio Coello's "Festival of the Host" (1684), which covers a niche containing the Sagrada Forma, a Host which is said to have been desecrated by Dutch Calvinists in 1572.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Court of the Evangelists
On the south side of the church at El Escorial is the Lower Cloister (with frescoes by Tibaldi), within which is the Patio de los Evangelistas, named after the fountain-house (by Herrera) with figures of the four Evangelists which stands in the center of the courtyard.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Chapter Rooms
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Old Church
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Grand Staircase
The Escalera Principal, with two symmetrical flights, leads to the upper floor; it was designed by Herrera. The ceiling has a painting of the battle of Saint-Quentin by Luca Giordano; on the walls are portraits, including those of Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera.
Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial Library
On the south side of the Patio de los Reyes, on the second floor, is the Library. Decorated with fine frescoes by Tibaldi depicting "The Foundations of Learning", it contains more than 40,000 volumes. Some of its most valuable incunabula, notably the Codez Aureus (1093) attributed to the German Emperor Conrad II, are displayed in cases, together with a manuscript of Alfonso the Wise's "Hymns to the Virgin", manuscripts in the hand of Santa Teresa of Ávila and Hebrew and Arabic writings.
Immediately underneath the church at El Escorial is the Panteón, the burial-place of the Spanish kings from Charles V onwards. An octagonal domed structure by Juan de Herrera, it was enlarged in the 17th century by Juan Goàmez de Mora. The interior decoration in black marble and gilded bronze, by Giovanni Battista Crescenti, reflects the Baroque taste of the period.
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