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"Check out: 'El Escorial' by..." Spain Favorite Tip by kywildcat

Spain General: 549 reviews and 477 photos


Favorite thing: Check out: 'El Escorial' by Madrid:
Northwest of Madrid extends the line of mountains formed by the Sierra de Guadarrama and the Sierra de Gredos, snowcapped and forbidding even in summer. Beyond them lie Ávila and Segovia, but on the near side, in the foothills of the Guadarrama, is San Lorenzo del Escorial and the bleak Real Monasterio del Escorial (Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; 850ptas, free Wed for EU passport holders). Enormous, overbearing and severe, it looks more like a prison than a palace. Planned by Philip II as a monastery and mausoleum, it was a place from which he boasted he could 'rule the world with two inches of paper'. Later, less ascetic monarchs enlarged and richly decorated the palace quarters, but Philip's simple rooms, with the chair that supported his gouty leg and the deathbed from which he could look down into the church where mass was constantly celebrated, remain the most fascinating.

Through much of the complex you have no choice but to be shepherded by officious guides in groups of up to a hundred at a time: you can avoid the worst by coming just before lunch, and by not going straight to the royal apartments, where everyone heads when the bus or train arrives. Go instead to the west gateway, facing the mountains, and through the traditional main entrance. It leads into the Patio de los Reyes, where to the left is a school, to the right the monastery, both of them still in use, and straight ahead the church. In here, notice above all the flat vault of the coro above your head as you enter, apparently entirely without support, and the white marble Christ carved by Benvenuto Cellini. This is one of the few things permanently illuminated in the cold, dark interior, but put some money in the slot to light up the main altarpiece and the whole aspect of the church is brightened.

Back outside and around to the left are the Sacristía and the Salas Capitulares (Chapterhouses) which contain many of the monastery's religious treasures, including paintings by Titian, Velázquez and Ribera. Beside the sacristy a staircase leads down to the Panteón de los Reyes, the final resting place of virtually all Spanish monarchs since Charles V. Just above the entry is the Pudrería, a separate room in which the bodies rot for twenty years or so before the cleaned-up skeletons are moved here. Their many children are laid in the Panteón de los Infantes. Nearby are the Library with probably the most valuable collection of books in Spain, and the so-called New Museums, where much of the Escorial's art collection – works by Bosch, Gerard David, Dürer, Titian, Zurbarán and many others – is kept in an elegant suite of rooms.

Finally, there's the Palace itself – apartments crammed with treasures – for which you have to join the official convoys. Don't miss the quarters inhabited by Philip II, but unless you're profoundly interested in inlaid wood it's not worth paying extra to see the Maderas Finas rooms. Afterwards, you can wander at will in some of the courtyards and in the Jardín de los Frailes on the south side (open only during lunch).

Fondest memory: We took a rental car and drove all over, not within the tourist nests....but right in the heart of Spain. We stopped at many places, no tourist has probably ever seen. This was Spain pure! I even found a fly in my 'patatas' while eating with landsmen coming for lunch from the fields! I picked it out of my food and ate the rest, what the heck! The waiter wouldn't have done anything different and might have charged us for the extra meet in this dish!
I still listen to the Gypsy Kings a lot but it's not the same, when there are no windmills and olive trees in sight! I love this land!

Review Helpfulness: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Aug 26, 2002
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