A week ago I visited El Escorial with two friends to visit my friend Kristin. Kristin lives out there with her boyfriend and also is an English teaching assistant at a school nearby. Nicole and I had gone to visit Kristin back in December but we hadn’t visited the monastery/palace. This time around, Sarah accompanied us and we decided to visit El Escorial before meeting up with Kristin for lunch. This wasn’t my first time visiting El Escorial but I didn’t mind seeing it again.
Located about 28 miles northwest of Madrid (so make that an hour bus ride), the complex of El Escorial was at one time a palace used by the Spanish royal family and a monastery. It still serves as a monastery today for the Order of Saint Augustine. King Philip II of Spain commissioned a palace to be built on the site and hired the architect Juan Batista de Toledo to design the complex. Construction began in 1563. Batista de Toledo died during the construction so overseeing the project next went to his pupil Juan de Herrera. It took about 21 years for the palace and monastery to be completed.
The palace is nestled at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, not an obvious place to build a palace and is rather windy because of the altitude. While the sky was blue that day, the wind was brutal and once we exited the palace, it attacked us mercilessly as we battled the wind along the grand esplanade in front of the palace. There are quite a few things to visit in the palace:
- the Basilica (which is actually free)
- the Pantheon of the Kings where all kings and queens who reigned of the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties since Charles I are buried, along with several other rooms full of tombs of various members of the Spanish royal family.
- the “Sala de Batallas” or the Hall of Battles. This room is my favorite. It is a long room covered in frescoes of important Spanish military victories.
- Palacio de los Austrias–the living quarters of Philip II. You can see the bed where he actually died.
- Art gallery–several rooms full of paintings in different styles spanning from the 15th to the 17th centuries.
- Architectural museum–several rooms dedicated to explaining the construction and architecture of El Escorial.
- Library–full of old books and worth a look.
As per usual, I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside but I did manage to sneak some in the arched corridors where no security guards were present. What I love about El Escorial is that it is a palace that receives a lot of light during the day. I’m not sure if Philip II did this on purpose but I can’t imagine why not.
After we ate a fantastic lunch in a local restaurant Kristin brought us to and spent some time hanging out at her apartment, we went over to visit El Escorial’s gardens. I think I have commented on the Spaniards’ love of PDA. Well I managed to snap a picture with a couple making out in the gardens. I suppose the gardens are romantic, but it was absolutely freezing too.
After the gardens, we wandered around a little more. El Escorial is a cute town, but there isn’t that much to see apart from the palace/monastery. So after that, the wind started picking up and we decided the best thing to do was to catch the next bus back to Madrid.
El Escorial is a wonderful day trip from Madrid. However, the best time to go is definitely when the weather is warmer!