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December 23, 2018

Spain: The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial


The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is an expansive complex of religious buildings about 26 miles to the northwest of Madrid. El Escorial’s buildings have served many functions. They were used as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university, school, hospital, and rotting room. Today the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a popular site for day trip for tourists visiting from Madrid. El Escorial receives over 500,000 visits each year.

Many monasteries are austere and restrained. El Escorial is austere and unrestrained. This is a royal monastery of a grand scale. The construction of the complex occurred between 1563 and 1584. With gold flowing into Spain from the New World financing the building of a large monastery was less of a problem.

The Royal Basilica and the Courtyard of the Kings

The library

With many functions spread through the complex there are many things to see. The royal apartments are restrained, as royal apartments go. Less restrained is the ornate library. The basilica though dark from its interior position in the complex is impressive. Perhaps most remarkable and unusual are the pantheons of the Kings and Princes.

The Pantheon of the Kings lies beneath the basilica and convent. It holds the remains of 26 Spanish Kings and the Queens who were also mothers of Spanish Kings. The royal remains are held in gilded marble sepulchers in a below ground vault.

Royal remains are not immediately moved into the sepulchers after death. They must first be prepared. Initially the bodies are reduced to bones in the “Rotting Room” or “pudridero”. In the Rotting Room the remains decompose to bone beneath lime. The process takes at least 20 years and often much longer.

The monastery’s western facade

The Rotting Room is still in use today. Remains of the parents of King Juan Carlos I, who abdicated his throne to his son Felipe VI in 2014, are currently inside the pudridero awaiting their eventual transfer to the Pantheon of the Kings. The niches in the Pantheon of the Kings will all be full when these two bodies are transferred in. There’s no space left for Juan Carlos’s bones, when that becomes necessary.

There’s generally good sightseeing access within the monastery. The Rotting Room, however, is off limits to the public. It is only accessible to the monastery’s monks. There’s only one known picture.

We found that finding our way around the inside of El Escorial was difficult. We toured the monastery with audio guides but often the route instructions were confusing or ambiguous. We both lost our way on multiple occasions.

A courtyard inside the monastery

Perhaps the sense of discovery generated by being lost all of the time was a plus, but we both lost sightseeing time. It is a confusing maze of an interior that left us discovering by accident many of the places we should have seen naturally in the course of following the audio guides route. If any tourists were going to stumble accidently into the Rotting Room, it would have been us.

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Our visit to the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial occurred in November of 2017.

The “Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid” was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1984.

The photography options on the inside were limited and a bit confusing, unfortunately.

Inside the walls

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1 Comment »

  1. […] San Lorenzo de El Escorial we headed to San Millán de la Cogolla. It was a journey from monastery to monasteries, from the […]

    Pingback by Spain: San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries | Another Header — December 25, 2018 @ 3:44 am


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