Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
It’s difficult to put the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial into words. Philip II could not have chosen a better place to build this monastery that came to be seen as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” in its time.
It portrays the character of King Philip II who was greatly influenced by his father, the Emperor Charles V, especially during his last years, when he lived with the monks in the Monastery of Yuste.
This building was promoted by a deeply religious king to express his gratitude to God and as the future mausoleum of his parents, his children and himself. The Monastery was built in honour of St. Laurence, whose saint’s day coincided with the victory against the French in the Battle of St. Quentin on 10th August 1557. Royal palaces, the burial place of kings and queens, the basilica, the library, the school, the monastery… this “monument” is a mass of knowledge, prayers, power… set in stone. It took over 3,000 people and 21 years to build and shape this unique granite building which is a prime example of Spanish Renaissance architecture.
The work was started by Juan Bautista de Toledo but was later redirected and finished by Juan de Herrera who gave it his own style, known as the Herrera style.
The walk through the Jardín de los Frailes (Gardens of the Friars) with its geometric hedges is delightful. From these gardens, you will see the kitchen gardens, the pond, the Pozo de Nieve (snow well used to preserve food) of the Monastery, and the Cachicanía (foreman’s house). Before you leave the gardens, don’t forget to take a picture of the southern facade of the Monastery from this viewpoint.
The project started as a monastery but eventually became far more. After deciding to build the Monastery on the meadow of the Herrería, Philip II started to buy land to provide the Monastery with assets that would allow the monks of the Order of St. Jerome to take care of its maintenance (La Herrería, La Fresneda, El Tovar, El Campillo, Monastery, etc.). This historic land –given Heritage of Cultural Interest status by the Community of Madrid– hosts the artistic, historic and natural values of these enclaves that became part of the historic wealth of Philip II.