The Royal Site of Saint Lawrence of the Escurial was built in the last third of the 16th century, at the behest of King Philip II. The complex extends as far as the towns of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, El Escorial, Zarzalejo and Santa María de la Alameda, on the southern slope of the Sierra de Guadarrama, in the Community of Madrid. In addition to the Escurial Monastery, this complex includes historic buildings, palaces and lands connected to the monarchy.
An impressive monument (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
The Royal Monastery of Saint Lawrence of the Escurial is the building that gets all the attention. This monumental construction, which has an area of 33,327 square meters, consists of a monastery, a basilica, a pantheon, a royal palace, a library and a school.
On 16th April 1561, during the construction process, Philip II stated that he wished this monastery to commemorate the Battle of St. Quentin, which had been won by the monarch's side on 10th August 1557, the Day of Saint Lawrence.
Philip II and the monastery (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
The plans of Philip II were also influenced, in part, by his father, Emperor Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire. Philip promised Charles he would build a pantheon in which to bury his body upon his death.
A commission was appointed and they decided that this geographical centre of the country was a suitable place to house, from that moment on, the mortal remains of the members of the Hispanic monarchy.
At the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Based on these intentions, Philip II ordered the construction of the complex, dominated by the monastery, which he entrusted to the monks from the order of St. Jerome, an order that had historical links to the monarchy. Its church would be used as a royal pantheon, although this was a desire that could not be fulfilled until later.
In 1559, Philip II appointed Juan Bautista de Toledo as royal architect. The cornerstone of the monastery was laid in April 1563, two years after Madrid became the capital of Spain.
Spanish Golden Age (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
The Royal Monastery and Site of Saint Lawrence of the Escurial is considered to be the complex that best sums up the ideological and cultural aspirations of the Spanish Golden Age.
At the forefront of Philip II's plans were, first, Juan Bautista de Toledo, whose ideas were based on a concept of Universal Design, and, later, Juan de Herrera, the architect who would reorganize the construction from 1572.
Basilica (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
By 1571, a decade after its initial proposal, a large part of the monastery was practically finished. However, it was not until 1586 that the construction of the final building, the Catholic temple, was completed. Philip II supervised all the works, until the Basilica was eventually consecrated in 1595.
The decoration of the rooms would then continue for a few more years, and it was not until the reign of Philip IV, grandson of Philip II, that the Pantheon of Kings became a royal burial place.
A residence for the royal family (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
This complex served as a residence for the royal family during their extended travels around the different Royal Sites. From 1586, the Habsburgs occupied the eastern façade, which became known as the Palace of the Habsburgs.
The Palace of the Bourbons, on the other hand, was built under the orders of Charles III around the Patio de Coches, modifying certain areas of the monastery. This new dynasty spent their autumns at El Escorial, after taking over the monarchy in 1700.
Statues of the Kings of Judah, facade of the basilica (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Since 1885, the monastery has been occupied by the friars of the Order of St. Augustine. The Catholic temple was designated as a Basilica by the Pope, an honour that is usually granted based on importance or historical circumstances.
As it is surrounded by other buildings, only the western façade, through which the interior is accessed, can be seen. Marble sculptures of the Kings of Judah adorn the lower part of this façade, which is considered to be a masterpiece of the Spanish Renaissance.
The library (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
The library is another noteworthy feature of this outstanding complex. It is a place that reflects the values for which the monastery was raised: monarchy, faith, science and the arts. It is also worth mentioning the large gardens into which Philip II, a nature lover, put a great deal of thought.
Gardens (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
These gardens were, and still are, an ideal place for rest and meditation. Philip II designed them with the cultivation of fruit and vegetables in mind, but also with the intention of creating a place of recreation in which to enjoy walking amongst the beautiful fountains and flowers.
He gathered together ideas from other European countries and hired the best landscapers and gardeners to carry them out.
Herrería Forest (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Due to its location, nature is a key element in understanding the value of this heritage. Next to the Royal Monastery is the Herrería Forest, which covers a total area of 497 hectares. This typically-Mediterranean forest is open to the public and boasts a great diversity of fauna.
Sala de las Batallas (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Another of the treasures that highlights the importance of this complex is the Sala de las Batallas (Hall of Battles). In the times of Philip II, those who visited the Royal Site had to see this room first. On its walls are represented the great military triumphs of the Habsburgs and their predecessors.
Inscription on the World Heritage List (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
The Royal Site of Saint Lawrence of the Escurial has, due to its architectural and historical value, been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 2nd November 1984. It originated as a monastery in harmony with nature and has evolved to become, among other things, the royal palace that can still be seen today.
Criterion (vi): The Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid, represents a masterpiece of human creative genius, where the great collective work of important artists were subject to the will and orders of the historic figure of King Philip II.
Criteria (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Criterion (ii): The Monastery and Site of the Escurial expresses an important interchange of human values, and symbolises the ideological and artistic expression that influenced developments in architecture, monumental arts, and landscape design during the Spanish Golden Age.
The architectural ensemble is an example of the palace convents and their urban and landscape design built by the European Christian monarchies. Its final layout of the 18th century makes it one of the most representative examples of the Real Sitio – the courtiers’ residential town – developed by the monarchy as a seat and reflection of its power.
Kings of Judah (1984) by Monastery and Site of the Escurial, MadridUNESCO World Heritage
Criterion (vi): The Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid is directly associated with very important historic personalities in European history and the world, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and all his descendants from the House of Austria and the House of Bourbon who occupied the Spanish throne, in particular Philip II.
It embodied, in an exemplary way, the ideology of the society and the austere pomp and ceremony with which its divine and worldly majesty was represented.