El Escorial: A Town of Tombs

El Escorial is a tiny town an hour outside of Madrid, Spain. Most notably, the town is home to two tombs each with a unique story.

The Valley of the Fallen
The Valley of the Fallen

One of the most controversial sights in Spain is The Valley of the Fallen (El Valle de los Caidos).  It is eight miles north of El Escorial.  The monument was built between 1940 and 1958 to commemorate those who perished in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  Soldiers from both sides were laid to rest, about 40,000 from both sides.

View from The Valley of the Fallen

The site is marked by a giant cross constructed on the cliff where the monument is built. The granite cross was created by Diego Mendez.  At the base of sculpture are four depictions of saints: Saint Luke with a bull, Saint John with a eagle, Saint Mark with a lion and Saint Matthew with a man. This was designed by Juan de Avalos. To give you an idea of how giant this thing is, it is 150 meters (492 feet) tall and weighs ~200,000 metric tons.

When you finally get to the monument, you walk across the large platform see the vast view of the desert and enter the giant basilica.  The wings of the monument are tombs to the soldiers.  Between the wings is the basilica.  In the middle of the basilica, there is the resting place of Francisco Franco and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. Many Spaniards have strong feelings about these two men and there have been issues of vandalism at the monument.  Both are icons of fascism.  This monument, while beautiful in it’s creation, is a reminder of Spain’s dark fascist past and brutal civil war.

Entrance fees: 5.00 Euros.
Funicular railway: 1.50 Euros.
Wednesdays: Free entrance for EU Citizens.

Telephones: (+34) 91 890 56 11

Website: http://www.patrimonionacional.es

Address: Carretera de Guadarrama/El Escorial, 28209 San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain 

The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was built in the 1500s. King Philip II of Spain built the complex to be the final resting place of Spain’s royalty specifically his father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  It was designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo.  He was inspired to create the design in a grill form to represent the grill on which Saint Lorenzo was martyred. After his death construction was taken over by Juan de Herrera who added classic Spanish architectural features.

The complex is enormous with a palace, basilica, monastery, library, and the royal crypt. The walls are decorated by 16th-17th century artists like El Greco and Luca Giodano.  Walking through the large halls, a person can sense that great pride was taken in creating this place.

The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The entire complex is impressive.  The Renaissance artifacts and gardens makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.  Other than the crypt, I loved the library because they leave old, rare books open so you can look at the script.  All the walls are so high, it is hard to not feel like an ant.

The crypt has two chambers, each decorated in gold accents.  First is the Pantheon of Kings where all the Spanish Kings and Queens and mothers of Kings are taken.  One part of the pantheon is the decaying chamber.  Bodies must decay for 20-30 years and then are extracted.  The remains are then placed into urns.  The next part, is a gloomy room with heavy air, the Pantheon of Infants.  This is where the young children, some even stillborn, are laid to rest.  There are granite coffins lining the walls of the room and in the center is a birthday cake like monument.  Inside are the remains of the smallest children.  Each room is beautifully decorated with remarkable craftsmanship. Sadly, no photos are allowed and even if they were it is quite dim in the chambers.  It takes a brave person to tour these rooms alone because the eerie. dim quarters echo like a Renaissance horror story.

The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial Garden, A View from the Palace

The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most visited landmarks in Spain.

Address: Juan de Borbon y Battenberg 1 San Lorenzo de El Escorial Madrid, 18100 Spain +34 918-90-50-11   http://www.monasteriodelescorial.com

*Closed on Mondays

Getting There to Escorial from Madrid:

Bus 661 and 6644 from the Moncloa bus station 4.20 Euros

Train C8a from Atocha Train Station 3.30 Euros

If you want a spooky day trip from Madrid, Spain, El Escorial is definitely the place to visit. For all those interested in a darker side of Spain, enjoy your creepy exploring!

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9 thoughts on “El Escorial: A Town of Tombs

  1. I enjoyed these places and the stories behind them; The structures were magnificent and so well-maintained but creepy in the crypts, like you said. Even when there were others around.

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      1. And I look forward to each new post! As I hope you do to mine (shamelessly promoting myself). You see, when you write about a place you are visiting, it’s as if I’m there, too. Not a superficial recounting of facts, but as if your readers are accompanying you on your journeys. Thank you for that.

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