San Lorenzo de El Escorial has a valuable Architectonic Heritage that justifies to a great extent the city’s tourist appeal.
The most emblematic and significant building is the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial that because of its unique character was declared Monument of Worldwide Interest by the UNESCO in 1984.
The second most-visited construction is the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) located in a splendid landscape from which magnificent views of the southern slope of the Guadarrama mountain range can be contemplated.
Because of its great tourist, cultural, and social interest we emphasise the different elements that are part of the Spanish Historical Heritage in which, along with the Monastery, stand out the Primera Casa de Oficios (First House of Trades) (Cultural Centre), the Segunda Casa de Oficios (Second House of Trades) (Integrated School of Music), the Tercera Casa de Oficios,(Third House of Trades),the Casa de la Compaña (Company Quarters) (Maria Cristina Royal University Centre), the Casa de los Infantes y de la Reina (the Princes’ and Queen’s House), la Casa de las Familias de los Infantes (Princes’Family House) (Euroforum Infantes), the Real Coliseo (Royal Coliseum) de Carlos III (Theatre), the Casita del Infante (Prince’s Cottage) (Museum palace), the Gardens of the Monastery and the Picturesque Place of the “Abantos Pine Forest”.
The Historical Artistic Ensemble of San Lorenzo de El Escorial also stands out, a limited and protected area in which overlap magnificent architectonic representations that affirm the evolution of history and of the passing of time from the 16th century to the present. Because of their interest, the buildings designed and planned by Juan de Villanueva in the 18th century also stand out, as well as the buildings of great architects that during the 19th and 20th centuries have contributed to the consolidation of a small and welcoming city that lives between tradition and modernity.
Finally, we will suggest a visit to the city’s Parks and Gardens that make up incomparable surroundings for the enjoyment and relaxation of whoever comes to this small city.
Through these Virtual walks you can get an idea of what you will see and enjoy in San Lorenzo de El Escorial during your next visit.
In the Letter that Felipe II wrote to the General of the Hieronymite Order, on 16 April 1561, he set out the reasons which led him to construct the Monastery: as recognition for the victory of the battle of Saint Quentin, which took place on St. Lawrence’s Day in 1557 and his desire to build a mausoleum in memory of his parents and himself, dedicated to St. Lawrence.
The work began under the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo in 1563, but the architect who continued it was his disciple, Juan de Herrera, from 1567, when Juan Bautista de Toledo died, until 1584, when the construction of the Monastery finished. The latter modified the design and created his own style, known as Herreran-style, characterised by decorative bareness and geometrical rigour.
The main facade, west-facing, has two large side doors which are the entrances to the Alfonso XII school and to the Augustine friary. In the centre of the facade, among eight Doric columns, is the main entrance of the building, crowned by a body of Ionic columns, among which we can identify the family coat of arms of Felipe II and a colossal statue of St. Lawrence, created in granite by Juan Bautista Monegro, which are particularly noteworthy.
Within it, it boasts the Plaza of the Kings (Patio de Reyes), the Basilica, the library, the crypt of the Kings (Panteón de Reyes), the crypt of the Princes and Princesses (Panteón de Infantes), the palaces (Palacios), and the Chapter Rooms (Salas capitulares), among other areas. The art museum and the architectural museum are a must for visitors.
The Patio de los Reyes is reached as you pass through the main door and measures 64 metres long by 38 metres wide. In the upper part of the facade, which gives access to the Basilica, there are six kings from the tribe of Judah upon enormous pedestals of granite stone, the work of Juan Bautista Monegro.
The Basílica takes the form of a Greek cross and its central cupola is crowned by a dome 92 metres high, which makes it stand out among the other towers of the building. The majority of its frescos above the vaults were painted by Lucas Jordan in the 17th century, except those located above the Choir and the main altar which are the work of Luca Cambiasso. The main altar is decorated with paintings by Zucaro and Tibaldi. At either side of the main altar there are bronze depictions of Carlos V and Felipe II with their respective families by Pompeyo and León Leoni.
The library, Biblioteca, has one of the most valuable collections in the world, not due to the quantity of documents and books, as there are around 50,000 volumes, but due to the quality of these, the collections of Arabic, Hebrew and Latin manuscripts being especially precious. The room, open to the public, is a vaulted gallery measuring 54 metres long by 9 metres wide. It is decorated with paintings by Tibaldi and Carducci, from the 16th century. The iconographic programme is very interesting: to the north, Philosophy is represented; opposite it is Theology; and between the two are the seven Liberal Arts – Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy.
The crypt called the Pantheon of the Kings, Panteón de Reyes, is located under the main altar, and here are buried practically all the kings of Spain from Carlos I onwards, except for Felipe V, Fernando VI and Amadeo de Saboya. The Pantheon is an octagonal room. On one of its sides is the entrance and on the opposite side is an altar with a gilded bronze figure of Christ by Domenico Guido. The room is decorated with deep-red and grey marbles and gilded bronze.
The crypt for the Princes and Princesses, Panteón de Infantes, was created in the middle of the 19th century, during the reign of Isabel II, and the works were completed in 1886. Constructed of white marble, it is made up of nine rooms. In the first is a bronze sculpture of Isabel II praying. The most notable tomb of this pantheon is that of Juan de Austria, illegitimate son of Carlos V. In another of the rooms, there is a great collective tomb in the shape of a cake in which are buried some of the children of the royal families who died before their First Communion.
The palaces, Palacios, occupy part of the north facade and that of the east, in addition to the projecting wall of the basilica. The palace rooms from the 16th century were occupied by Felipe II. The first of these is known as the Hall of Battles, Sala de las Batallas, decorated with paintings by Genoese artists: Oracio Cambiaso, Fabricio Castello, Nicolas Granello and Lazaro Tavarone. These painted battle scenes, among which were the battle of la Higueruela and the battle of St. Quentin. In another of the rooms, you can see the sedan chair which carried Felipe II at the end of his life, when, due to the gout, he was barely able to walk. The Portrait Room, the Map Room and the Throne Room take us through to the bedroom where the King died, characterised by simplicity. The Bourbon Palace, Palacio de los Borbones, was decorated at the end of the 18th century, under Carlos III and his son, Carlos IV. The influence of French taste is apparent in the style of the furniture, porcelain, lamps and all manner of decorative objects. The most important items in these rooms are the collection of tapestries designed by artists such as Goya, Bayeu and Tenniers, among others.
The Chapter Rooms, Salas Capitulares, as their name indicates, were used by the monks to celebrate their chapter meetings. The ceilings were decorated in Pompey style and although a large part of their artistic richness went to the New Museums, they still contain works by El Greco, Rivera, Tintoreto, Titian and El Bosco.
The new museums, Nuevos Museos, are divided into two themes: painting and architecture. In the art museum, Pinacoteca, we can find works by Titian, José de Rivera, Lucas Jordan, Bassano and El Greco, among others.
The architectural museum, Museo de Arquitectura, houses an important collection of tools, models, plans and mechanisms used during the construction of the Monastery.
Outside, the Garden of the Friars, El Jardín de los Frailes, and the Gallery of Convalescents, Galería de convalecientes, stand out. Felipe II was a great nature lover and so the Jardín de los Frailes is an ample garden, containing a dozen green parterres around an equal number of small ponds, each with a water fountain at their centre. These gardens, in the most northern end, are crowned by one of the more beautiful architectural features, the Galería de Convalecientes, located between the Infirmary and the Pharmacy Tower, which is placed upon a set of Doric columns forming a right angle.
The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1931, and in 1984 was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.