The Royal Monatery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, part I !!!

And I am back updating one of the jewels of our world, a must to visit while in Spain. What can I say , so many posts on this wonderful country that I can call mine, the land of my grandparents maternal and paternal. The No 2 most visited country in the world by UN-WTO standards. I like to tell you a bit about one wonder of our world; the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Been here since a child and never tired of coming back for more, its an absolute must to see! The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a complex that includes a royal palace, a basilica, a pantheon, a library, a school and a monastery. It is located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, in the Community of Madrid region, on the southern slope of Mount Abantos, at 1028 meters altitude, in the Sierra de Guadarrama and was built between 1563 and 1584.


The palace was the residence of the Spanish Royal family, the basilica is the burial place of most kings of Spain and the monastery; founded by monks of the Order of St. Jerome is currently occupied by friars of the Order of Saint Augustine.   It was considered, since the late 16C, the eighth wonder of the world, both for its size and functional complexity and for its enormous symbolic value. Its architecture marked the passage of the Renaissance Plateresque to the unadorned Classicism. It’s paintings, sculptures, cantonal, parchments, liturgical ornaments and other luxury objects, and sacred items make the Escorial also a museum.


A bit of history I like;briefly…

In 1557, there was the victory over the French at the Battle of San Quentin.(Aisne 02 France). In 1558 , the emperor Carlos V dies in Yuste, changing in his will his desire to be buried in Granada by the request to his son to create an ex Novo building for his tomb, in a place different from his parents and grandparents. In November of 1560, the current site is chosen, just 50 km from Madrid, in the vicinity of the source of Blasco Sancho, next to El Escorial , then a small village of the community of Villa and Tierra de Segovia, to build the monastery complex.


This year, 1561,  was the key to the history of San Lorenzo de El Escorial; because the monarch moved the capital of Spain from Toledo to Madrid. He entrusted the monastery of El Escorial to the Jeronimos monks . Traditionally, the Hispanic monarchy had been closely linked to this religious order. In April 23rd 1563, the Feast of St. George (San Jorge), the first stone of the monastery was placed, on the foundations of the convent’s refectory, under the Prior’s chair, on the southern facade. In 1584, the statues of David and Solomon are placed on the cover of the basilica. By September 13th,1584 the works were officially finalized, despite the fact that the Royal Basilica was not completed. This culminated in 1586 after eleven years of construction.  The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial arises from the need to create a monastery that ensures the cult around a family pantheon of new creation, in order to comply with the last testament of Carlos V of 1558. The emperor wanted to bury himself with his wife Isabel of Portugal and with his new dynasty away from the usual burial places of the Trastámara. The final floor of the building, with only four towers in the corners and the royal palace making a handle, recalls the shape of a grill, so traditionally it has been claimed that this trace was chosen in honor of St. Lawrence, martyred in Rome on a grill , since on August 10th, 1557, the day of the saint’s festivity, the Battle of San Quentin took place. Hence the name of the whole and the locality created around it.


In 1814, once surpassed the avatars of the war of the independence(peninsula war see post) , which meant for the monastery the plundering and the secularization, the monks of the order Jerónimos return. With the reestablishment of the 1812 Constitution and the start of the Liberal three-fold, the monastery is again abandoned by the majority of the monks between 1820 and 1824. On December 1, 1837, the 150 Jeronimos monks depart after entering into force the laws of the disentailment of ecclesiastical property. Later, after a failed restoration attempt, a patronage of secular chaplains was created. In 1885, after two intervals in which the Escolapios parents occupied it (since 1869 the school, and between 1872 and 1875 the complete custody of the monastery) and again the secular chaplains, the king Alfonso XII makes delivery of the monastery to the Order of Saint Augustine. The Augustinians live in the monastery until today. What was this huge complex in the middle of a mountain small town, behold beauty, architecture, history, and fairy tails to make story telling a habit of continuous family talks. Like mines! 


In reality the architectural origin of its plant is very controversial. Leaving aside the merry chance of the grate, which did not appear until closed the main façade with the false façade of the library and eliminated six of the towers, the plant seems to be based rather on descriptions of Solomon’s Temple of the Bible , and the Judeo-Roman historian Flavio Josephus. The theory most accepted today is that the similarity with the Temple of Jerusalem and the presence of the statues of David and Solomon on its facade sought to underline the real presence of God in the Eucharist, an idea denied by the Protestants and defended in the Council of Trento. It is also very possible that, at the end of the 16C, it was sought to endow a biblical background with the ideas of humanism about the recovery of pagan architecture and ideas about the modulation of Vitruvius, since the Temple of Jerusalem that was described by Flavio Josephus was built during the Roman domination of Judea .The values of the project are the order, the hierarchy and the perfect relation between all the parts of the composition, integrating monarchy, religion, science and culture in the main axis: the main façade with the statue of Saint Lawrence, the Library, the Kings of Judah, the Basilica and the King’s private palace. The theatricality of this journey through this great central axis to finally show the Tabernacle with the Eucharist anticipates the arrival of the Baroque. A work of art like none other , I say!

The main sections in which the Real Monasterio de El Escorial site can be divided , and to keep them brief are:

King Felipe II gave to the Real Biblioteca or Royal Library of the monastery the rich codices he possessed and for whose enrichment he commissioned the acquisition of the most exemplary libraries and works from Spain and abroad.


The Palacio de Felipe II, also known as the Palace of the Austrias, occupies the entire handle of El Escorial grill and part of the north courtyard, built on two floors around the presbytery of the basilica and around the courtyard of figureheads. It follows the same architectural scheme of the palace of Carlos V in the monastery of Yuste.  In stark contrast to the austere monumentality of the palace of the Habsburgs, stands the Palace of the Bourbons. Built north of the basilica, around the courtyard of the palace, the complex of rooms has its origin in the time of king Felipe II, when in that area were installed the chambers of the infants , the gallery of battles, and kitchens and service areas.


The Basilica, preceded by the courtyard of the Kings, is the true nucleus of the whole, around which the other dependencies are articulated. The Crypt by order of king Felipe III, the small funerary chapel from under the altar to house there twenty-six marble sepulchres where rest the remains of the kings and queens of the Houses of Austria and Bourbon, with only a few exceptions. The Reliquaries were done following one of the precepts approved by the Council of Trento concerning the veneration of the Saints, king Felipe II endowed the monastery with one of the largest collections of relics of the Catholic world. The collection consists of some 7500 relics, which are stored in 507 boxes or sculptural reliquary.  The Convent; the monastery itself occupies the entire south third of the building. It was originally occupied by Jeronimos monks in 1567, although since 1885 is inhabited by the Augustinian Fathers. The enclosure is organized around the great main cloister, the courtyard of the Evangelists, and is one of the best architectural pages of the monastery. Its two floors are connected by the spectacular main staircase, with the vaults decorated by frescoes. It also emphasizes the low cell priory in the old church or of Lent the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence of Titian is preserved, one of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, which king Felipe II commissioned for the main altarpiece of the basilica but which ruled out by its dark colorful, little visible at some distance.



The main staircase; follows the typical Spanish tradition of imperial staircase with a main section divided in two to the sides from the first plateau, maintaining the axis of symmetry of the convent and combining the three floors of the courtyard of the Evangelists with the three of the Convent by means of discreet doors that allow the passage to the most collected and domestic area.




Chapter rooms (Salas Capitulares), currently destined for paintings, were the halls where the monks celebrated their chapters, a kind of mutual confessions to maintain the purity of the congregation. Since the time of Velázquez, who intervened in its decoration, they housed important paintings.  Hall of Battles is a gallery of 60 x 6 meters, 8 meters high, located in the area of the Royal apartments. In its walls are depicted frescoed some battles won by the Spanish armies.


Museum of Architecture; It was located in the basement of the building, vaults plant, and was created in the year 1963 as part of the exhibitions of the fourth centenary of the placement of the first stone.

Friars’ Garden or Jardines de los Frailes; were ordered built by king Felipe II, who was a lover of nature, constitute an ideal place for rest and meditation. To the southwest of the garden is the Convalescent gallery or corridor of the sun, a spacious, airy and light-filled space designed for the rest of the sick. It is supported by an architectural articulation little achieved in the Torre de la Botica, perhaps due to the need to guarantee the closure of the monks. Its sober facade to the west market contrasts with the most open to the gardens, where the Arquitrabada solution with arches on Ionic colonnades is unique in the monastery.


It’s a work of art, indeed a wonder of our world, a must to see by all. I know I am repeating myself but do go see it, and learn a whole lot of my dear Spain, The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is awesome !!

Some webpages to help you plan your trip are :

The San Lorenzo de El Escorial tourist office on the Royal Monastery

The city of Madrid tourist office on El Escorial :

The Comunidad de Madrid region tourist office on the Royal Monastery

The National Heritage of Spain on El Escorial :

There you go folks, again, you must come, the books, travel sites even my blog are not enough to see this wonder of our world. Never tired of riding out to see it when in Madrid. The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, wow! In my beloved Spain of course!

And remember, happy travels , good health, and many cheers to all !!!

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4 Comments to “The Royal Monatery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, part I !!!”

  1. So elaborate and overwhelmingly beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have always admired Carlos V, one of the few sovereigns to have retired from power on his own. And yet what a monarch he was, Spain, the Netherlands, Burgundy, a large part of Italy and emperor of Germany!

    Liked by 1 person

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