The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, commonly known as El Escorial, is a historical residence of the King of Spain about 45 kilometres northwest of Madrid. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and has functioned as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university and hospital.

El Escorial comprises two architectural complexes of great historical and cultural significance: the royal monastery itself and La Granjilla de La Fresneda, a royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat about five kilometres away. These sites have a dual nature; that is to say, during the 16th and 17th centuries, they were places in which the power of the Spanish monarchy and the ecclesiastical predominance of the Roman Catholic religion in Spain found a common architectural manifestation. El Escorial was, at once, a monastery and a Spanish royal palace. Originally a property of the Hieronymite monks, it is now a monastery of the Order of Saint Augustine. It is also a boarding school.

Philip II of Spain, reacting to the changes of the 16th century, dedicated much of his lengthy reign (1556–1598) and much of his seemingly inexhaustible supply of New World gold to stemming the tide. His protracted efforts were, in the long run, partly successful; however, the same impulse had a much more benign expression thirty years earlier in Philip's decision to build the complex at El Escorial.

Philip engaged the Spanish architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, to be his collaborator in the design of El Escorial. Juan Bautista had spent the greater part of his career in Rome, where he had worked on the basilica of St. Peter's, and in Naples, where he had served the king's viceroy, whose recommendation brought him to the king's attention. Philip appointed him architect-royal in 1559, and together they designed El Escorial as a monument to Spain's role as a center of the Christian world.

In 1984 UNESCO declared The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo of El Escorial a World Heritage Site. It is a popular tourist attraction, often visited by day-trippers from Madrid – more than 500,000 visitors come to El Escorial every year.

Buildings

The royal site includes the monastery, a stone complex of extraordinary dimensions surrounded by formal gardens and the monks’ gardens, the House of Trades, and the Company Quarters where the palace and monastery services were accommodated. In the 18th century, the new Houses of Trades were built, completing the Lonja (the stone esplanade), and, consequently, a small town arose around the monastery, becoming a model of the Enlightenment, accommodating the court as well as the two country villas for Charles III’s sons.

Within the monastery’s massive volume, there is an ensemble of different buildings: the monastery, the church, the royal palace, the school, the seminary, and the royal library, brilliantly organised around eleven main courtyards and three service courtyards. Some say, the design is similar to that of the grill, the instrument used for St Lawrence’s martyrdom. Its austere architecture, a sparsely ornate style, known as herreriano, was a break with previous styles, and had a deep influence on Spanish architecture for more than half a century. Notwithstanding, several rooms do have a very rich and sublime decoration. Contemporary writers praised it as one of greatest paradigms of the arts.

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