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“Museum, art gallery, library, mausuleum and more”

Monasterio y Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial
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El Escorial and Valley of the Fallen from Madrid
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El Escorial and Valley of the Fallen Half-Day Tour from Madrid
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El Escorial and Valley of the Fallen Tour from Madrid with Optional Toledo or...
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Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Reviewed 26 July 2014

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.

4  Thank on_the_go_98765
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 12 July 2014

This Monastery provides insight into the mind of Phillip II. While there are interesting decorations, it’s hard to separate the building from the man. He built himself a "retreat" of modest luxury where he stared at paintings of Jesus on the cross, saints and martyrs usually suffering pain or imminent death. Phillip lived a "model" life taking good care of himself and “suffered” by decorating with artwork of OTHERS in pain. His reign oversaw wars and persecution of those who didn't recognize Phillip's emulation of the mercy, forgiveness and love of Jesus. So, it's not the happiest tourist site.

1  Thank AnneMcD
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 July 2014

This was a side trip from Madrid. El Escorial is easy to reach by taking a bus #664 (fewer stops)or #661. The trip takes just under 1 hour and cost 4.20 per person (buy tickets on the bus).
The monastery itself is well worth the visit. The primary purpose of this monastery is as the royal burial place. Majority of the kings and some of their children who never became kings or queens are buried there, and you do get to see the mausoleum. In addition, an audio guided tour takes you through the museum, Habsburgs Palace, Basilica, and Library. Museum is rather small, but it does contain some significant paintings. I was particularly impressed by the library. Don't expect this to be as glamorous as the Royal Palace in Madrid, the two have completely different functions. People who rate this low obviously had some other issues from the beginning and/or some preconceived expectations. Go with an open mind and enjoy. No photos allowed inside, but this is pretty common. You can't take photos in any of the Royal Palaces nor art museums such as Prado. If you must have photos of the inside, buy a small book from the gift shop for about 9 Euros.
While there is no food service in the Monastery, there are several restaurants a short walk outside of the monastery walls. It helps to know at least a bit of Spanish because unlike Madrid it's more difficult to find English speaking waiters, but the restaurants do have menus in English.

6  Thank conquistador2003
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 June 2014

El Escorial was built for King Phillip II of Spain from which he directed the Counter Reformation in his attempt to return Europe and the world to what he regarded as the one true faith. It is has a cold grandeur, more a holy fortress than what other monarchs were building in that era. Religion and the Spanish monarchy are practically the only themes represented in the artistic embellishments. There are hundreds of reliquaries on the various altars and holy books on all sides. Phillip II had the place designed to house himself, his family remains and to serve as a monastery. For a time much of Europe and all of Central and South America were ruled from this place by the Spanish monarchy, so it has great historical significance. When the Hall of Battles is open the visitor is treated to amazing paintings depicting Spanish military might. Overall it is an interesting contrast between absolute devotion and military power. It is quite easy to reach El Escorial from Madrid by extremely comfortable buses that leave frequently from the Moncloa Metro station and the fare is only 4.20 Euros each way.

3  Thank Dallasbirder
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 28 June 2014

We took an excursion to El Escorial in late May 2014, arranged by Julia Travel in Madrid. We found El Escorial to be rather plain. The outside looks like more or a fortress, rather than a palace or even a castle. No pictures were allowed inside, but except for a few areas, it was rather drab. We saw King Phillip II’s bedroom, his queen’s bedroom, the chapel, the crypt, and a couple of other rooms. If you want to see luxury, you’d be better off going to the Royal Palace in Madrid rather than El Escorial. The Royal Palace is opulent; El Escorial is not. The best room was the crypt where all the kings and their wives dating back centuries have been interred. The story of how they came to rest there is also interesting. And the answer to the question on everyone’s mind, “Will King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia be entombed here?” was no, but we were told that no one knows where they will be buried. Getting down to that crypt, however, was a feat in itself. Down many steps and at the end, up the same set of steps to the next stop. Several on our tour had canes, and everyone made it, but it certainly is not handicapped-friendly.

The biggest disappointment was that we were unable to see the library. Some reviews I read indicated that was THE place to see at El Escorial. It is still open, but despite much research I was unable to find a current tour that included both the library and the Valle de los Caidos. Our tour guide said that there was not enough time to see both. If one drives there independently, not on a tour, it would be possible.

One can see the huge cross at The Valle de los Caidos from a long distance. It really stands out. However, being there was also somewhat of a disappointment. The funicular to the top, where the cross stands, was closed, and my hunch is that it has been inoperable for a long time. The basilica, carved into a mountain was reputed to be larger than St. Peters, but I have my doubts. It certainly is long from one end to the other, but not wide, and again very sparce. There are a couple of chapels and doors in each one lead to where the dead are buried, but other than that, there’s not a lot to see. Outside there’s a wide plaza area, completely empty, but one can go there and take pictures of the nearby mountains or of the outside of the basilica and the cross.

Now a bit about Julia Travel in Madrid. Our guide was very good. She did the tour in both English and Spanish, and for the most part did a sentence in one language, did the same sentence in the other language, and then repeated that for the next bit of information. Her approach made it easy to follow and her English was very good. Her voice was a bit low, making it difficult for those of us with some hearing loss, but her speech was clear. She was pleasant, had a sense of humor, and she knew her stuff. The bus provided by Julia Travel was very nice and exceptionally clean. The windows were clean as a whistle.

Julia Travel in Madrid, however, has some shortcomings. For a 8:45 tour, you need to show up at 8:30. They have no restrooms and recommend that you go to Starbucks or some other place down the street, where you have to buy coffee or something to use the restrooms. Not very handy. Then you have to wait around and be sure to catch the right bus. A woman came and said that there were 2 tickets, which seemed to mean that one needed both tickets for that specific bus. No – she really meant we needed to have one of the 2 tickets since they were combining 2 tours on that one bus. Both went to El Escorial and Valle de los Caidos in the morning and then some continued to Toledo for an afternoon excursion. Let me add, however, that we used Julia Travel in Barcelona for an excursion, and their office and processes were very client-friendly. So I can’t judge the whole Julia Travel operation based on this one office.

3  Thank WorldTraveler061
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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