Escorial in Madrid (World Heritage)

By | August 4, 2021

The El Escorial palace and monastery near Madrid was built by King Philip II from 1563 to 1584. built and is the largest Renaissance building in the world. The monumental building is extremely austere and has around 400 rooms, 16 inner courtyards, 15 cloisters, a basilica and a valuable library.

Escorial in Madrid: facts

Official title: Escorial in Madrid (monastery with surroundings)
Cultural monument: El Escorial, a monument of the Spanish monarchy of Philip II, palace, mausoleum of all Spanish kings from Charles V to Alfonso XIII. and monastery of the Hieronymites at the same time; the St. Dedicated to Laurentius; built on a grate-like floor plan; 16 courtyards, 12 cloisters, 86 stairs, 1,200 doors and 2,593 windows; three-aisled monastery church with 43 altars and library with valuable holdings, including a. the memoirs of Teresa of Ávila, “Libro de su Vida” (1565/66)
Continent: Europe
Country: Spain, Castile
Location: El Escorial, near Madrid
Appointment: 1984
Meaning: Secular and religious center of the all-powerful Spanish Habsburgs under Philip II.

Escorial in Madrid: history

1562 Preparation of the building site
April 22, 1567 Foundation charter drawn up by Philip II
June 12, 1571 Philip II’s first stay
1671 Fire in the »Biblioteca Principal«
1772 Construction of the casitas, small palaces, for the Infante and later King Charles IV and his brother Gabriel
1835 Secularization of the Hieronymites Monastery
1885 Entry of Augustinian monks

Landmark of absolute power and inquisitorial severity

“The sun doesn’t set in my empire,” said Philip II, successor to Emperor Charles V and ruler of an immense empire, including Spain, the Netherlands, Sicily, Sardinia, Naples, Milan and much of South America. When he ascended the throne in 1556, according to businesscarriers, Spain was at the zenith of its world power. After a religious, spiritual and political unity was established in Europe with the Council of Trent, a building was to be built that expressed so much sunshine – El Escorial. The Monument of the Vanities was completed in a record time of 21 years in 1584 – not a gesture of sunny serenity, but of absolute power and religiosity.

The staunch Catholic Philip II had already praised the dedication of a monastery to Saint Lawrence in Saint-Quentin after his victory over France on August 10, 1557, on its name day. The oath turned into a multifunctional functional building, a place of prayer, government, administration, art, science and eternal rest. With its straight-lined, completely unadorned structure of over 2,500 windows and 1,200 doors, the complex already looks like the grate on which the martyr Laurentius was burned to death in Roman times. The architects Juan de Toledo and Juan de Herrera were also inspired by the shape of the torture instrument, the “handle” of which corresponds to the private palace of Philip II protruding from the rectangle.

Gray granite is the building material of the monastery residence. It was struck from the flanks of the Sierra Guadarrama, at the foot of which is the Escorial, surrounded by a green lung of oak forests and pastures of La Herrería. At a sufficient distance from the Madrid court and the stifling, hot valley basin, Philip’s choice fell on San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a good 50 kilometers away, to build his residence. From the Silla del Rey, a hill in the Guadarrama Mountains, he constantly watched the construction work. Even today, the Madrilenians flee here when they want to turn their backs on the city.

Strict and stubborn like the suppression system of the Inquisition, which became the dominant social factor under the absolutist rule of this Spanish king, the monastery palace stands in its gigantic, area-wide dimensions in the middle of the mountainous terrain. Larger unevenness of the terrain has been skilfully compensated for by additional basement floors. Twelve cloisters, 300 monk cells, 16 inner courtyards, 86 stairs and 88 fountains are located under its roof – more than can be found in some cities. You can feel the planning ambition with which the palace was created in every corner of the building.

The asceticism on the outside is in stark contrast to the splendor of the inside. Philip II invited the best artists to lavishly design vaulted ceilings, create masterpieces on canvas and templates for carpets. Velázquez, El Greco and Goya, but also the Flemish “master of the apocalypse”, Hieronymus Bosch, and the “father of baroque abundance”, Pieter Paul Rubens belonged to the circle of fine painters. In the basilica, the sacristy, the chapter rooms and the library you feel like you are in the old masters department of the Prado Museum in Madrid. Only the finest materials were procured and processed for the interior design – marble in different colors, exquisite precious woods, ivory, gold, silver, bronze and enamel. In the Palacio Real of the Bourbons, Philipp gave his rococo designer a free hand; it contains precious tapestries, lamps and candlesticks, porcelain, mirrors and clocks. More than 3,000 bibliographical treasures from science and culture are gathered in the library.

Philip’s bedroom is right next to the church. In this way, the king, who suffered from gout, was able to watch mass from his bed. The cold heart of the granite necropolis is the marble Panteón de los Reyes, in which the bones of almost all Spanish kings rest.

Escorial in Madrid (World Heritage)