El Escorial

El Escorial is a Madrid area landmark that formerly served as a retreat for royalty. Located about 28 miles northwest of Madrid in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, this massive granite structure now functions as a museum, as well as a royal palace, a school, and a monastery. Almost every King of Spain since Carlos I is entombed at El Escorial, which adds to its allure as a tourist attraction. There is also plenty of amazing architecture to take in. This huge edifice is essentially a fortress, a palace, and church rolled into one, and while it appears imposing and relatively lackluster in terms of ornamental designs at first glance, visitors could easily spend a few hours at least observing the various features both inside and out.

The history of El Escorial Madrid starts with King Philip II of Spain, who ruled from 1554 to 1598. After defeating the King of France in the Battle of St. Quentin in 1557, Philip II decided that he should have a grand building to commemorate the occasion. The Spanish King employed the help of a renowned architect and friend by the name of Juan Bautista de Toledo to design El Escorial. When Bautista died, another renowned architect by the name of Juan de Herrera took over. When you consider the size and scope of the structure, it is impressive to think that its construction only took a little more than 20 years.

The history of El Escorial Madrid is an interesting one, partly because of the fact that it was constructed during the time that Spain was truly starting to emerge as the world's premier empire of the day. You can learn more about this history on a guided tour of the building, as well as get some insight into its various attractions. Whether you take a guided tour or not, there is plenty to see on a visit, and when you're not exploring the inner realms and the spacious central courtyards, the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is home to some quaint shops and restaurants that beg a visit. The main focus in town remains the huge palace monastery, however, and since it takes a few hours to see everything that it has to offer, you may not have time for shopping and dining before you return to Madrid. There are some good hotels in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, so you might stick around for a night or more to get a break from the more urban side of Spain.

On a visit to El Escorial, one of the most interesting things that you'll find inside is the Panteon de los Reyes, or Crypt of the Kings. El Escorial was partly built to serve as a mausoleum for Felipe's parents, or Carlos I and Isabel, but they aren't the only royal members entombed in the crypt. There are more than twenty marble sepulchers in the Panteon de los Reyes, and they hold both kings and queens. Also interesting are the tombs of the princes and princesses in the Panteon de los Infantes.

When you're not taking a look at the fascinating crypts on your visit to El Escorial, you might check out the dazzling basilica, which boasts an attractive Gothic design, or head to the Patio of the Kings to bask in the open air and enjoy the beauty of the structure's main façade. There are also plenty of interesting artworks to observe on a visit to El Escorial. This can be an ideal place for art enthusiasts to explore when they're not spending some quality time at Madrid art museums like the Prado and the Reina Sofia. The Royal Library is also not to be missed on a visit to El Escorial if you have the time. The art includes paintings by El Greco, Titian, and Velazquez. In the library, tens of thousands of priceless volumes can be found, and the displays include some very fascinating relics that history buffs are bound to relish.

Whether you want to learn more about the history of El Escorial Madrid by taking a tour or you just want to make the rounds on your own and take it all in, the landmark is open Tuesday through Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April through September, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. October through March. The admission fees are reasonable enough, but if you want to save some money, Wednesdays are free.

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