Monday, May 12, 2014

El Escorial

The last Wednesday of April, at the suggestion of my friend Ryan, I met up with another Kentuckian who is living with a Spanish family here in Madrid. Her name is Ronnee and she was honestly not what I expected (though in a good way). In many ways, she exemplifies qualities that I've come to associate with good people from my homeland - her thick accent, headstrong but welcoming mindset, a curious mind, and a refusal to apologize for who she was. She seemed to be enjoying her time away from the States, although Spain wasn't necessarily her idea of a utopia. She told me lots of stories and a lot about her family, who frequently invite foreign exchange students into their home. One of those visitors is the reason she is able to enjoy an extended stay in Spain now. Not a bad deal.

Our idea was to meet up in a station and leave from there. I don't think we thought it through really well, because any given station in Spain's largest city could be packed with people and I don't have a functional phone. I managed to catch sight of her going up an escalator somehow and I creepily stalked her and yelled at her. I am glad she doesn't look like a typical Spaniard...

We took a train to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a small city outside of Madrid, mostly known for the royal monastery there. Susan suggested the site for a day trip, since she and Ana are normally at work during the day and I have plenty of time to explore. It took about an hour to get there and the change of scenery was very welcome. Living in Getafe, you sometimes forget what it's like to see far-reaching, green landscapes.

The city itself was quaint. Ronnee and I stopped for coffee and asked the waitress what the best way to get to the monastery would be. She suggested walking there through the park, which turned out to be a wonderful recommendation. The weather was fantastic and we were able to enjoy a nice little stroll under the trees.

The monastery was impressive. It was built in the 16th century at the request of Felipe II in honor of his father and to have a place for the royal family to be buried. It sports quite the basilica and library, among other phenomenal structures. There is even a private school there now.

The monastery houses a lot of artifacts and plans from its conception/construction inside. A large portion of the place essentially serves as a museum. When we first went in, there were a lot of tapestries from other countries housed there. Ronnee recognized some of them as copies of paintings housed elsewhere. Most of them were dated to the 16th century. I can't imagine making tapestries that elegant with modern utilities, much less weaving one 500 years ago...

We passed through an area where they had set up some of the proposed blueprints for the monastery and models of different parts of it. The models were about as impressive as the actual structure itself. They also had a section that showed the tools and machines used to build the place. The complexity of it was astounding. I guess sometimes I forget how clever people have historically been. It's easy to get caught up in modern technological advances and lose sight of where we came from.

There were also no shortage of paintings throughout the monastery, most of them depictions of biblical scenes or portraits of royal family members. We got a little tired of all of the morbid crucifixion paintings, but there were some excellent paintings in their collection, including many of princes and kings with fancy armor and skirts.

We eventually stumbled upon the royal quarters. Felipe II's room was arranged as it was at the time of his death (chamber pot and all). He had some fancy desks that made me kind of jealous too. Overall, his room was a bit boring and really small, though. I guess I expected it to be more lavish, given its royal inhabitant. 

One of my favorite parts of the monastery was the Hall of Battles. The entire hall was painted with scenes of battles between the Spaniards and the Moors. I'm fairly certain at least part of it told the story of the Reconquista in the 15th century, but I didn't see much information on it anywhere. I really wanted to get a picture of the place, but the guards were omnipresent. Thankfully, the Internet provides:

There was a beautiful garden area outside, but we never figured out how to get out there:

Though I said before that we were not permitted to take pictures inside, I did end up sneaking a few with my phone's camera (that's about all my phone is good for in Spain when there is no Wi-Fi around). One was of the ceiling above the staircase of the main entrance to the monastery.

As I mentioned before, the monastery was established in part to house the remains of the royal family. There was an elaborate chamber that contained twenty or thirty kings and queens. All of their names were stylized in Latin on the side of their coffins. In addition to this chamber, there were halls of the remains of lesser royal family members, the infanta, as well. They had some extravagant tombs and sculptures...

Another favorite of mine was the library, which housed a large number of books in Latin and Greek, including a ton of philosophy books and different versions of the Bible. For whatever reason, the guard was off somewhere and I snagged a couple of quick pictures. Maybe one day, I'll have a successful career in academia and I will be able to construct a multi-million dollar library like this (ha!). 


While the library was absolutely amazing, I was blown away by the basilica. I've seen some impressive cathedrals, but I don't know that any of them have had quite as intense of an impact on me. The scale of the place was incredible! I may have almost cried. Ronnee and I both were just mesmerized by it. I couldn't get a picture of it and none of the ones I found on Google really do it justice. I think it's just one of those things you have to experience in person. I can't even imagine going to Mass in the 16th century (or even now) in this basilica. It was just awesome.

After visiting the monastery, we took a stroll around the part of the town close by. It was beautiful. Everything was closed up tight apart from the cafes, as it was late afternoon (siesta time). 

We hiked back down through the park again, taking a different path. We walked past the king's hunting lodge, which was pretty fancy too.

We ended up getting a drink at a little café before heading back to the train station. El Escorial turned out to be quite the Renaissance-era treasure and I hope Ronnee enjoyed it at least half as much as I did!

1 comment:

  1. I had a wonderful time. of the better times in Spain. And this was a killer read!!