El Escorial – a wonderful town only 40 minutes outside of Madrid, accessible by train for only four euros. That’s right, for only four euros, you can escape the big city and head to the hidden paradise of El Escorial, jam packed with years of important Spanish history, charming streets which are pleasing to the eye, and most importantly, all is enjoyed with a side of Creme de Orujo, a typical Spanish aperetif.
The History (it’s interesting, promise)
El Escorial was, at once, a monastery and a Spanish royal palace. The building of the complex at El Escorial was initiated by King Philip II, the man responsible for moving the capital of Spain to Madrid in 1561. This is also where all of the kings of Spain are buried (ok, except one.)
Sure, you can read about these things on Wikipedia, but I learned some interesting tidbits of information from a close friend and history buff who spent a majority of her life vacationing in El Escorial. For instance, King Philip II was SO incredibly religious, that he slept in a bedroom which offshoots from the altar of the basilica. So every morning and night, he would pray, then slide on over a few feet into his chambers to call it a day. #dedicated
The other interesting piece of information the hire of architect Juan de Herrera to collaborate in the design of the monastery. He was so forward-thinking in his creation, that he built a flat dome. The king was so convinced it would collapse, that he ordered Juan to put a support column in the center. He obeyed. Well, kind of. He wanted to prove that the dome would stand, therefore he left about an unnoticeable inch or two of space between the column and the dome. The column was later removed, revealing the shape of the oddly flat, but sturdy dome. Stubborn guy!
Lastly, the design of nearly every main element is in the shape of a gridiron, from the blueprint/layout of the entire monastery, to the detailed carvings adorning the interior of the basilica. Why? The monastery honors San Lorenzo, a saint who died by being burned to death on a gridiron-shaped object. A bit morbid, but I appreciate the creativity.
As you can expect, the incredible monastery, which is also a library, museum, school, and basilica, is the focal point of this town. Not only can you spend an entire day gawking at the design, but you can also spend hours in the library, relax in the gardens, or simply breathe the fresh air while viewing the Madrid skyline.
And lastly, the sunset! Breathtaking. If you ever visit Madrid, El Escorial is a wonderful day trip.