El Escorial, Spain

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El Escorial is a historical residence of the King of Spain, and is still an official royal site. Constructed between 1563-1584, El Escorial was built by King Philip II as a monastery and a palace, as well as a family burial site for himself, his parents – Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (King Charles I of Spain) and Isabella of Portugal, and his descendants. In fact, El Escorial has served as burial place for most of the Spanish kings who have reigned since it was built.

Spanish Renaissance in style, and laid out in a grid pattern, El Escorial contains many features for visitors to explore. The central building of the complex is the basilica of San Lorenzo el Real, which features a dome that rises almost 100m.

The palace of Philip II features a window from which the king could observe mass from his bed (he was severely afflicted by gout). The 54-metre great hall of the library houses more than 40,000 volumes, including Philip II’s personal collection of documents.

The Hall of Battles contains fresco paintings depicting Spanish military victories, including over the Moors and the French. The Pantheon of the Kings contains the remains of most of the Spanish monarchs of the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties from Charles I to the present.

Other features include the Courtyard of the Kings, Art Gallery and Architectural Museum. The Gardens of the Friars were designed to offer a place of meditation to those who studied at the monastery’s school. The monastery and its school still operate today.

Located 28 miles northwest of Madrid, El Escorial is open to visitors October-March: 10am-6pm, and April-September: 10am-8pm.