The majority of the construction of this extremely large, extraordinary granite marvel was completed by the time 1600 rollled around. It is big, really really big.
Plan to spend part of the day with a professional tour guide and also try to schedule time to take a more thorough look in a more non-rushed way. Time is needed to process it all.
The most impressive room, for us, was the library. A tall, arched ceiling is covered in the most magnificant painting representing the 7 liberal arts. It was the first modern library in all of Europe and the great volume of books number nearly one million (400,000 bound books and 500,000 documents on rods). The oldest date to about 400 A.D. Most of the very ancient books and rods are in temperature controlled rooms for security (so they are not on display). The books are turned with their pages facing us, as opposed to the binding on the spine facing out. The page edges form a solid surface themselves; they are gilded gold and the book/volume/location numbers are recorded there (sort of like a reverse-spine). The reason for this method of storing the books allows them to "breathe". The ceiling has an earth sphere "Armillary" sphere, it is called. The earth is depicted as the center of the universe.
Another eye-opening and educational part of the tour took us to the royal crypts. The "Royal Pantheon" holds 26 coffins which are very intricate and impressive tombs. These beautiful dark funerary urns (proper term), so beautiful in their decorated green marble. They hold the remains of 26 kings of Spain. Two adjoining rooms are bone-drying rooms where, after 20-30 years, the king's remains will be deemed ready for transfer to their own separate crypt. But there is a problem now; all the spaces are taken and there are no more places to hold anymore urns.
Other mausoleum rooms contain infants' remains and the crypts include one shaped like a big, round wedding cake and it holds the remains of babies from Austria and France. The individual stories relate childhood illnesses, accidents, and families' sadness.
The Basilica of St. Lawrence also contains the Chapel of the Doctors (I don't know why it is called that, it just is). The outside of the Basilica shows St. Lawrence (4th century martyr) at the top, holding a grill in one hand and a palm frond in the other. He sadly met his death on this apparatus. His martrydom is recorded both on the building exterior and on the Basilica's high altar (right about in the very middle area over the altar). The whole picture is very moving; the Saint's expression is inquiring, innocent, and thankfully free of pain.
In the Chapel is a crucifix that was carved out of white Carrara marble by a true master (Cellini, carved most likely in 1562). It never was intended to be made public, as it was created by the artist for his own personal tomb. It was originally completely naked and circumsized; the modesty covering was added by the Monks.
The art work, the rooms occupied by then-living royalty, the story of an aging and dying king lying in his bed right off the main altar, the glorious Hall of Battles (that room, alone, needs a good 45 minutes to take in everything, the battle scenes are a look back in time), the furnishings, and remember to read the little note cards of explanation at each little view area. See? A lot of time is really needed.
This was probably one of the most important, educational, inspirational, and memorable places we visited in all of Europe. It really is a must-see on anyone's agenda.
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