El Escorial - Spanish monastery

When Spanish King Philip II ordered the construction of the palace and monastery in the 16th century, El Escorial was just a small village, 1065 meters above sea level on the south slopes of the Sierra del Guadarrama mountain range. He built the Royal Monastery of El Escorial as a pantheon for his father, Charles V. It was also meant as a thanksgiving for the victory over the French in the battle of San Quintín in 1557.

Although the project was initially less ambitious, it grew into a Pantheon, a royal Palace, a monastery and a centre for research and investigation. The closely supervised architects were Juan de Toledo and his successor Juan de Herrera, who lent his name to the style immortalized in El Escorial. The building of the enormous complex lasted just 21 years (1563-1584), a speed which was helped by Philip's intense interest. From above, the layout closely resembles a grill, the instrument on which San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) was martyred. Oh, symbolism, it was on San Lorenzo's Day that the French army was defeated at San Quintín.

The period of its construction corresponded to the years of the Catholic Reform after the Council of Trent, and the building's astonishing severity and sobriety were indicative of both the religious spirit of Spain and of Philip II's own fervent Catholicism. His was a strict, ascetic faith, reflected in the Escorial's unadorned facades, rigid rectangular layout of spaces, and square towers marking each of the four corners of the building.
Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture, from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. Quoted on http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/The_Escorial.html

Measuring 206 meters by 161 meters, El Escorial is built of grey granite and contains 1,200 doors and more than twice as much windows. Only the corner towers alleviate the rectilineal look of El Escorial, with both the grandeur of a royal palace and the conservative austerity of a monastery.

The most important building of El Escorial is the palace. This was much used over the centuries and many improvements were made by the Hapsburg dynasty. The severe austerity of the Hapburg sensibility can be seen in the bedrooms of Philip II. The small, monastic rooms are cell-like. In the basement of the palace, the original plans for the complex by Herrera are exhibited, as well as tools and machinery used by the 1,500 workers.

The church was built based on plans by Donato Bramante, with a 30 meters high altarpiece and divided into four levels supported by columns of red marble, jasper and onyx. The tombs of Charles V and Philip II are in niches in the sides of the presbytery. The Patio de los Reyes (Courtyard of the Kings) is a grand, formal area with statues of the six kings of Judah, a work of sculptor Juan Bautista Monegro.

The Pantheon is called Panteón de los Reyes and lies directly under the main chapel, accessible through a marble and jasper stairway. The pantheon holds the remains of every king of Spain since Charles I, except Philip V, Ferdinand VI and Amadeus of Savoy who were buried in La Granja, Madrid and Italy respectively. In the 19th century Panteón de los Infantes, many princes and princesses lie buried.

Some of the other buildings are the chapter house (now a museum), the Library and some hunting pavillions.

El Escorial is 49 kilometers NW from Madrid.

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