The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and the Prince’s Little House
One of the most visited sites in the Guadarrama Mountains (sierra de Guadarrama) is San Lorenzo de El Escorial and its surrounding area. Not only because of the monastery, an architectural work that is known and studied all over the world, but also because of its settings and its routes that offer enjoyment of Nature to everyone.
From Madrid, we can go by car on the A-6 motorway or the Galapagar road, via the Valmayor reservoir (embalse de Valmayor), a place for fishing, canoeing and wind-surfing. Approximately 10 km. from the reservoir, we arrive in the town of Villa del Escorial, whose church of Saint Barnabas (San Bernabé) was built by Juan de Herrera.
El Escorial Monastery, built during the reign of Philip II
We go up to the town of San Lorenzo del Escorial, and we immediately come upon what has been called ‘the eighth wonder of the world’: El Escorial Monastery, built during the reign of Philip II to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Saint Quentin against the French, on 10th of August ,1557.
This huge mass of granite, begun in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, and continued in 1567 by Juan de Herrera, has been the centre of the life of the town for centuries, and its interior is an obligatory visit for everyone who comes here.
Twenty-one years were needed to build it, and there was no lack of strikes or accidents among the more than 1,500 labourers which, without any doubt, slowed the rhythm of the construction.
This architectural work combines the magnificence of palaces with the typical austerity of monasteries. Its floor, grill-shaped, symbolizes the martyrdom that Saint Lawrence suffered, and within its walls, there are a total of 1,200 doors and 2,600 windows. Juan de Herrera himself defined its characteristic sobre and geometric style.
The Vault of the Kings (el Panteón de los Reyes del Monasterio)
The tourist mustn’t miss visiting The Vault of the Kings (Panteón de los Reyes), with its marble and jaspe staircase, where the sepulchres of all the Spanish monarchs are found, from Charles I to Alphonse XIII, the Architecture Rooms, where one can see all the tools used to build it, the Portraits Room and the Sculpture and Painting Room.
In its library, Philip II gathered together more than 10,000 volumes, many of which were destroyed in the fire of 1671. Today, it is a public library with more than 40,000 printed works and 2,700 manuscripts.
Surrounding the monastery, we have to mention the gardens which embellish the monument, the Prince’s Little House (La Casita del Príncipe) and the Little House Above (La Casita de Arriba), which are worthy of a stop in our visit.
The Prince’s Little House (La Casita del Príncipe) and the Little House Above (La Casita de Arriba)
Charles III commissioned Juan de Villanueva to build a recreation pavilion for his son, Charles IV. This is the Prince’s Little House, situated on the road from Villa del Escorial to El Escorial Monastery. It is a small and luxurious house, surrounded by beautiful gardens and fountains, where frogs croak and squirrels climb up the pines.
In the midst of beautiful surroundings, with pine trees and paths for pedestrians, where one can walk quietly or sit on a bench to read a book or the newspaper, we can also appreciate the delicious dishes of the restaurant in the gardens and taste the mushrooms which delight the palates of enthusiasts of this food.
Although less well known, the Little House Above is also worth a visit. It was built by Villanueva for the Infante Gabriel, Charles IV’s brother.
- The Seat of Philip II and the Abantos Hill
- Excursions to sites declared as World Heritage
- Guide for visiting the characteristic Castle of Manzanares El Real
View Mapa infosierra-El Escorial in a larger map