MadridsliderSpain DestinationsTravel
More than 500,000 people visit the palace every year, many of them coming
by train from Madrid for a very pleasant day trip
by Mary Foran

Is it too late to suggest to the powers-that-be that there be a summer concert series in beautiful, señorial El Escorial? Preferably something elegant and restrained, perhaps classical Spanish music quartets, for example?

I can just see it now, the vast stone esplanade filled with patrons on white fold-up chairs, ladies, and gentlemen, dressed up in their finery in the lengthening shadows of the gentle crepusculo, stars just beginning to pop out in the darkening sky, the air freshly cooled by the nearby Sierra, Spanish fans stilled for the evening as the music begins to sound… Ah, what a wonderful photo op!

If the music was soft and soothing maybe the laid-to-rest Kings and Queens of Spain buried there would not mind too much. And in my experience, monks are understanding sorts!

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V , a.k.a. Charles I of Spain,

Did you know that El Escorial was built starting in 1563 to be the final resting place for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the father of the Spanish King Phillip II? It was finished in 1584 as not only his palace but as a Hieronymite monastery–hence its somber shadows and design.

Its full title is The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo of El Escorial and it is located some 28 miles(45km) Northwest of Madrid, the capital of Spain. There is also a basilica there, besides the mausoleum of the Spanish sovereigns.

There is a very important library housed there with ancient manuscripts, and along with the museum, there has also been a university, a school, and a hospital.

Looking into what Wikipedia has to say about it, history shows that “El Escorial was at once a monastery and a royal palace, a place in which the Roman Catholic religion in Spain and the power of the Spanish Monarchy found a common architectural manifestation.” It is now run by the Order of Saint Augustine monks, who took over from the Hieronymites who once owned it. There is a boarding school there too: The Real Colegio de Alfonso XII.

The town of El Escorial, a stone’s throw away, is frequented by visitors who enjoy the peace and quiet of the area, and the many restaurants and cafes miles away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. The architect in charge of The Escorial project was Juan Bautista de Toledo, who had spent much of his career in Rome and had worked on the Basilica of St. Peter’s, and in Naples as the King’s viceroy.

At the foot of Mt. Abantos: “Nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation”

Wikipedia states: “Phillip appointed him (Bautista) architect-royal in 1559 and together they designed El Escorial as a monument to Spain’s role as a center of the Christian world.” UNESCO declared the palace/monastery as a World Heritage Site on the 2nd of November 1984. More than 500,000 people visit the palace every year, many of them coming by train from Madrid for a very pleasant day trip.

Since El Escorial is situated at the foot of Mt. Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama, the air is fresh and clear; the place gets quite cold in the winter, however! Commuter trains run frequently to outlying towns from Madrid.

“The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo”)/Titian, 1567, El Escorial

What Phillip II had in mind when he built this wonder-of-the-world was an internment site for the remains of his parents, as mentioned before: Charles I and Isabella of Portugal. He was also to be buried there, as were his descendants. Thus for the last five centuries, most Spanish sovereigns have come to rest there, the Bourbons as well as the Habsburgs.

Wikipedia describes it as an “austere, even forbidding” place, “more like a fortress than a monastery or a palace.” Phillip demanded “simplicity in the construction, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, and majesty without ostentation.”

One thing that visitors should not forget is that El Escorial houses many art masterpieces: Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velazquez, Rogier van der Weyden, Paolo Veronese, Alonso Cano, Jose de Ribera, Claudio Coello and many others.

As a week-end getaway, El Escorial is ideal. Now, if they would only add a little music to the adventure to counter its somberness, a visit to El Escorial would be “the cat’s meow”!


Wouldn’t you know? Even before this piece was published, my wish has been granted. Indeed there’s going to be lovely music in good old Escorial this summer. See below!











Here’s complete info on El Escorial’s Festival de Verano which includes not only concerts but dances as well.



Related posts
“MADRID ARCHITECTURE series: The Era of Baroque”
“Madrid Getting You down? Take a Hike. El Escorial is Waiting”


Featured image (vault and frescoes over the library/Rom-kok, CC BY-SA3.0, cropped. Text supplied.
Charles V, copy of the Titian original, PD
The royal palace-monatery/Direccion General de Turismo, Comunidad de Madrid
Martyrdom of St Lawrence, PD