The Escorial Palace and Monastery is about 50 kilometers to the north-east of Madrid at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains. Contemporaries would call him the «eighth wonder of the world». And indeed, its size, as well as its purpose (monastery, palace, museum, burial place), is quite unusual.
The Spanish king Philip II owned very extensive lands in Europe and America. In the time of his rule Spain was at the height of its power. At the same time, the king himself was very pious and severe. On August 10, 1557 in the Battle of Saint Quentin in Flanders, the Spanish army defeated the French. The battle took place on St. Lawrence’s Day, and the Church of St. Lawrence was destroyed during the battle. Philip swore to build a new church in honor of the saint.
The construction of the Escorial was started in 1563. Philip believed that he was building a new «temple of Solomon», which would become a symbol of the true Christian faith and power of the monarch. The construction was completed 21 years later. By its outline the Escorial resembles very much the grille St. Lawrence was burned on in the ancient Rome. On the one hand, Philip II was the monarch of the most powerful empire, but he wanted to live among the monks. That is why the Escorial became both a palace and a monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome.
The palace has a huge area, 208x162 meters. It is believed that the length of its corridors reaches 16 kilometers. There are almost a hundred flights of stairs, 15 galleries, 16 courtyards, 1,250 doors, and 2,673 windows in the palace. For just these dimensions the palace was called the «eighth wonder of the world». The chambers of Philip II were between the palace and the monastery. And at that, when Philip became old, he could still see the altar of the church from his bed.
The Pantheon of the Kings, located under the main altar of the church, was also created in the Escorial. In 1586, the remains of Emperor Charles V, the father of Philip II, were moved there. Since then, all the kings of Spain have been buried there. Philip II visited his deceased father once a week. He marched through the Court of the Kings, with granite statues of the kings of Judea, then to the Pantheon of the Infantes, lined with the best marble, and after that to the Pantheon of Kings, Europe’s most magnificent mausoleum, lined with black marble and jasper.
To admire the Escorial from above, you can climb on top of the Tower of Philip. Now it is a viewing point in the mountains and in the time of Philip II it was a secluded place from which the king sometimes oversaw the construction of the palace. A rather long path leads to this mountain place.