el escorial

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One of the beautiful things about my swim team is that we have late Saturday morning practices. And  I mean truly late; we do not start swimming until 10. For me it’s nice to have a day to sleep in and the weekend almost really feels like a weekend. However, it does put a slight damper in our weekend travel plans because if we cannot leave before 1:30 or 2 pm on Saturday it is rather difficult to do a day trip. Since Andrew works M-F we have tried to make the most of every weekend so that he can visit not only Madrid, but Spain as well.

That being said, we refused to be deterred and squeezed our first day trip after my practice. Saturday, the 15th we visited the Escorial, King Philip II’s monastery constructed to the northwest of the city of Madrid.

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Construction on the palace began in 1559 to commemorate the Battle of St. Quentin. Moreover, it was dedicated to San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), whose attribute is a grill, as an ex-voto gift (the battle was held on his feast day August 10).  Many scholars have claimed that the floor plan represents his grill; yet, it also depicts the floor plan of Solomon’s Temple causing controversy as to the origin of the plan. One thing that is certain is that it is an austere palace adhering to Philip II’s desires to create a place of retreat without falling into the traps of ostentation or arrogance.

The audio tour of the Palace is absolutely fantastic featuring 70 different explanations of the rooms and their functions. We both particularly enjoyed the bottom floor, which exhibited models and tools used in the construction of the palace. It is rare that a palace is so auto-referential to its own construction displaying the various plans and how these were put into practice.

Many of the rooms were decorated with works of art created by Titian, Bosch, Roger van der Weyden and the like conforming to the tastes of the Habsburg Monarchs. I enjoyed seeing these how these works of art fit into the spaces, but truthfully my favorite piece of decoration was the sundial depicted on the floor of two separate salas before the King’s personal rooms. It was used to ensure that all the clocks in the palace were set on proper time. To me it was such an interesting piece of architectural and practical flair that fully represents the preoccupation of these men with documenting and understanding how the world functioned.

Another special part of the Escorial is the pantheon of the Habsburg Monarchs. The tombs of all the Spanish monarchs starting with Charles V, themselves are rather plain, rich black marble with his or her name featured in a golden cartouche. However, the multitude of these tombs one on top of the other, mixed with the rich mahogany paneling (I am just assuming that is the type of wood) creates a sumptuous whole. This aspect is further heightened by the contrast with the rest of the building which displays light open rooms.

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[This is the main exterior with an expansive plaza in front of it]

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[Once you get through the front doors you are greeted by this expansive plaza that leads into the Basilica. It has been claimed that the main facade is repeated in this facade to a degree of more element which is furthered at the main golden altarpiece, to demonstrate the hierarchy of forms.]

Technically, you cannot take photos in the Escorial, which is why there are no photos depicting the interior and you must take me at my word. I was able to sneak this one photo from the bathroom to give an idea of how the gardens played into the structure and the expansive view that the building held. Next year there is a course that focuses on the Escorial and I believe that it fits into my schedule and so I look forward to learning more about this building.

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As we were finishing our tour, it appeared as if a group of people were gathering for a wedding. Regardless of the function there were many nicely clad visitors. We never saw the bride so I guess we will never know. I can only imagine how much it must cost to hold a wedding there…

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Andrew asked his co-workers for recommendations of where to eat on our trips. We both were extremely excited to try to the cocido at a restaurant along this street. However, we were too late and they had just closed the kitchen until dinner. We had a quick bite to eat at one of the cafes before taking the train back home.

There is no better way to spend the first day of summer than traveling with Andrew. I have a feeling we will see a good portion of Spain before the summer is through!!

 

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