The monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is an excellent place for exploring the history of Spain, mainly because it holds what probably is the greatest trace of the reign of king Philip II of Spain. Located in the mountain range of Guadarrama, and with an altitude of more than 1000 yards, this royal monument was declared a World Heritage Site in November 1984. After we admire the building’s large size —which isn’t an easy job to do, given all the different corners one can get lost in—, we should focus on those subtle details which add value to the monastery. For instance, there lies the chamber where the monarch slept, prayed and, eventually, passed away.
Philip II was born in May 1527, and he personally supervised the construction of the monastery. Many aspects of the building were highly influenced by his father, Charles V, who spent the last years of his life living with Hieronymite monks in a small monastery of Extremadura. Hence, the Order of Saint Jerome ended up acquiring the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, whose church became the burial vault of the royal family.
This area comprising 39858 square yards hosts the palace the king and his entourage used for leisure. There is also a school, a seminary and a library there. Its construction began in 1562, and the last stone was placed in 1584, although the basilica didn’t become a sacred place until 1595. The furnishing wasn’t finished yet, but San Lorenzo de El Escorial was already considered one of the most impressive royal monuments in the whole continent. The unique landscape in a mountain range, surrounded by the forest of La Herrería, contributed greatly to its fame.
From the immensity of this land, we’ll turn our attention to an enclosed yet incredibly appealing space: the Chamber of the King in the palace of Austria, next to the rest of the royal bedrooms. These rooms are scattered around two floors surrounding the presbytery of the church, with an inner courtyard known as Mascarones. The royal family used to stay in these rooms when they visited the palace, but there’s no doubt that the one person who used them most was Philip II. His chamber is indeed one of the most interesting rooms in the monument.
The king’s chamber was divided into four different spaces: the main room, the bedroom, the study and the oratory. In fact, it follows the same pattern of his father’s own monastery. The piece of furniture that most stands out here is the monarch’s bed. Firstly, because it’s the same bed he died on, on a Saturday of September 1598. Secondly, because it was laid out in a way that Philip II could witness from the bed the liturgy happening in the main altar of the church.
The royal chambers, wide and well-lit rooms, are quite austere when it comes to ornaments. Nowadays we can’t really see the original decoration of the place, but it does keep the essence of the monarch. His sober personality matches the strong faith he kept, always connected with the sacred aura of this monument called San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
You can also read this article in the Feeling Madrid page of the Community of Madrid.
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