About El Escorial
El Escorial, the full name of which is The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial) is an impressive 16th century royal complex built under the orders of King Philip II of Spain.
History of El Escorial
Intended to mark the celebration of Spain’s victory over the French in the Battle of St Quentin, El Escorial was constructed between 1563 and 1567 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, a Spanish architect who had spent much of his career in Rome. It would go on to serve as the king’s palace and the seat of his empire.
The architecture of El Escorial is one of its most significant elements. The style, now known as Herrerian, was developed by El Escorial’s second architect Juan de Herrera and was considered an innovation at the time. The layout is similar to that of the Alhambra and Alcázar of Seville, although some believe it was actually based on descriptions of the Roman Temple of Solomon.
The basilica is the central part of the complex: look out for the gorgeous white Carrara marble statues and paintings by El Greco, amongst other 16th, 17th and 18th Spanish and Flemish artists. It was Philip II who commissioned Titian’s famous poesie series for the Alcazar in Madrid.
Many of Spain’s monarchs are buried within the grand granite walls of El Escorial, including several members of the Habsburg Dynasty as well as the Bourbons.
El Escorial today
Today, El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public, who can tour its various buildings, courtyards, vast library, towers and halls as well as viewing its around 1,600 paintings. The complex is open year round (closed on Mondays) and can get busy at weekends with visiting madridlenos escaping the city for the weekend.
It’s worth getting a map and plotting out highlights – there’s a vast amount to see in the imposing buildings and you can easily spend a day here.
Getting to El Escorial
El Escorial is roughly 60km north west of Madrid – allow an hour if you’re driving. It’s also easily accessible via public transport – take the C3 regional line from Atocha, Chamartin, Nuevos Ministerios, or Recoletos in Madrid to Estacion El Escorial. From there it’s a 10 minute walk to the castle itself.
Bus 687 from the Moncloa bus station will get you to Villalba, where you’ll need to change for a train to El Escorial.
Spain Historic Sites
Discover the abundant history of Spain, from Seville Cathedral to Toledo Sephardic Museum and more, within this guide to the 10 best historic Spanish cultural locations and monuments.