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.
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.References:
Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.
The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.
In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.
Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.
About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.
Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.
A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.