El Escorial.  in Madrid, Spain

El Escorial

in Madrid, Spain

Vista del monasterio de El Escorial en otoño, view of the monastery of El Escorial in autumn Photo © Turismo Madrid

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El Escorial

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Monasterio de El Escorial (nocturna) - El Escorial
Monasterio de El Escorial (nocturna) - El Escorial. Photo by Miguel Diaz
El Escorial is a famous architectural complex that is located approximately 28 miles outside of Madrid, Spain. Officially known as the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, this expansive site contains a royal palace, a basilica, a pantheon, a library, and a monastery that were constructed in the mid-16th century. It is a popular day trip attraction for visitors to Madrid, who head to El Escorial to see its beautiful basilica and view the royal pantheon, which contains the remains of most of the Spanish kings from the last five centuries.

History

El Escorial was chosen by King Philip II of Spain (Wikipedia Article) as the site of a royal palace in order to celebrate his victory against King Henry II of France (Wikipedia Article) in the Battle of Saint-Quentin in 1557. The King also wanted the complex to be used as a necropolis for his family and his descendants, the future kings and queens of Spain, as well as an important center for education. It was constructed between 1563 and 1584, and is known for its austere architectural style, which makes it look much more like a fortress than a royal palace.

San Lorenzo de El
	Escorial - El Escorial
San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Photo by Loïc Lagarde

Things to See

If you’re interested in history, religion, literature, art, or architecture, then you’re sure to find an area of El Escorial that fascinates you.

The Basilica

The central building of the architectural complex is the Gothic basilica, which was designed in the shape of a cross. Some of its most notable features include the beautiful frescoes on its ceiling that were painted by Italian Baroque painter Luca Giordano (Wikipedia Article), its ornate Corinthian columns, and its impressive altarpiece.

The Pantheon of the Kings

Known as the Cripta Real in Spanish, the pantheon contains 26 exquisite marble sepulchers which hold the remains of kings and queens from the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties that have ruled over Spain since the 16th century. Notable Spanish rulers whose remains are located in the pantheon include Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (Wikipedia Article), Philip II of Spain, and Queen Isabella II of Spain (Wikipedia Article).

The Library

The library, founded by King Philip II, is one of the finest libraries in Spain. Its ceilings are decorated with beautiful frescoes depicting the liberal arts, while its shelves hold over 40,000 volumes that include illuminated manuscripts, maps, mathematical instruments, and ancient manuscripts in languages such as Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Aramaic.

The Reliquaries

King Philip II also donated one of the largest collections of religious relics in the world to the monastery, which can be seen throughout the complex, especially within the basilica. The relics include various bones from saints and martyrs.

The Palace of Philip II

The Palace of Philip II is located next to the basilica’s main altar. The ornately decorated rooms display a number of interesting historic and artistic artifacts. The king’s room is especially fascinating due to its unique window, which allowed the king to observe mass in the basilica from his bed due to illness.

The Architectural Museum

If you’re interested in architecture and the construction of this famous site, you won’t want to miss the architectural museum, which contains displays that feature blueprints of the complex and tools used to construct it.

Practical Information

El Escorial is a great place to explore on a day trip while you’re visiting Madrid. Due to its popularity with tourists, it is quite easy to reach El Escorial by public transportation.

Address: Av Juan de Borbón y Battemberg, s/n, 28200 San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain

By bus: The easiest way to get to El Escorial is by bus. There are several daily buses from Madrid’s Moncloa bus terminal, which is accessible from the Moncloa stop on the Madrid Metro system (lines 3 and 6). The bus will take you directly to El Escorial, and when you want to catch a bus back to Madrid, the bus station is just a short walk away on Calle Juan de Toledo.

By train: You can also reach El Escorial using Line C3 of Cercanías, Madrid’s commuter rail service. Trains can be caught from a number of stations throughout Madrid, including the large stations of Atocha, Sol, and Chamartín. It’s a long walk uphill from the train station to the site, so you will probably want to catch a local bus up to El Escorial.

Hours: El Escorial is open year-round from 10:00 Tuesday through Sunday. It closes at 18:00 between October and March, and at 20:00 from April through September.

Price: Admission costs approximately €10 ($12) for adults, and €5 ($5.75) for children, students, and seniors. It is recommended to buy tickets in advance from the Patrimonio Nacional website, which requires selecting a visit time. Most self-guided visits take approximately two hours.

Nearby Attractions

If you’re driving to El Escorial, you may also want to visit the Valle de los Caídos, or “Valley of the Fallen” in English, which is located less than 6 miles away. This famous Spanish monument dedicated to those who died in the Spanish Civil War (Wikipedia Article) consists of a basilica and abbey which can seen from miles away due to the 150 m tall cross that sits atop the site.

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Author: ehuttner. Last updated: Mar 23, 2015

Pictures of El Escorial

Monasterio de El Escorial desde el monte Abanto - El Escorial
Monasterio de El Escorial desde el monte Abanto - Photo by Miguel A. Sancho

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