Day Trip to El Escorial and Silla de Felipe II
Posted on August 26, 2010 at 7:00pm Madrid / 1:00pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes
Two Saturdays ago we made our second attempt at a day trip to El Escorial. It was worth the wait. The morning weather was sunny and 70°F — perfect for a hike. And it was a festival weekend in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which meant free entry into El Escorial and a $20 savings for us.
After an hour bus ride into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains outside of Madrid we arrived in the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which is dominated by El Escorial, a historical residence of the King of Spain built in 1584. Today, it is a large monastery, an austere royal palace, a fascinating museum, a school, and a royal pantheon where Spanish royalty are buried. We walked around the exterior of the building and peeked over the walls to the gardens and decided to take advantage of the cool morning air with a small hike. We headed to the tourist office so they could point us in the direction of Silla de Felipe II (Chair of Philip II).
The hike to Silla de Felipe II was about 2.5 miles. It began on a wide path through a park, climbed up a rugged trail through the forest, and ended at a magnificent view of El Escorial set against the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. It could have also been reached in the opposite direction by car, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun — plus, we don’t have a car. The hike itself offered many outstanding views and we had the path to ourselves most of the time.
At the site we sat on several blocks of stones that were in the forms of chairs and overlooked the vista. Supposedly they were the same stones where King Philip II sat and watched the building of his palace and monastery. We relaxed on his throne, ate our granola bars, and watched two young boys interact with their grandpa and his binoculars. It was fun watching their excitement at seeing faraway things so big, and I was just happy I could actually understand some of their conversation in Spanish. The boys were rambunctious and impatient. They wouldn’t let grandpa look through his binoculars for a second without chanting, “Give them to me, give them to me, I want them.” As they left, they gave us a cheery, “Adios.”
After our hike back and a quick lunch, we entered El Escorial. The well-directed path through the massive building led us to the Museum of Architecture, the Art Gallery, private apartments, the Hall of Battles, the Pantheon, numerous ceiling paintings, the Grand Staircase, the Basilica, and the Library. My favorite was the Library. I am always drawn to books and the room was beautiful. It glowed a warm gold. The walls were covered with books and the ceilings were covered with paintings.There were over 40,000 volumes, including King Philip II’s personal collection. The paintings on the ceiling were frescoes depicting the seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy.
I also really enjoyed the Basilica and the Museum of Architecture. The Basilica had wonderfully high ceilings and an impressive 92-foot tall altar adorned with gilded statues and religious paintings. The Museum of Architecture featured original plans, drawings, models, and tools detailing the building of El Escorial. The blueprints and detailed drawings of the building’s exterior were fascinating. They were pen drawings, but they were so intricate and precise that they looked like they could have been printed from a computer today. It was compelling to think about how far we’ve advanced technology in the past five hundred years, yet so many principles of architecture are enduring and relevant.
The Museum of Architecture was the first feature we visited and I probably spent too long perusing all of the drawings there because by the time we made it through the building we were exhausted and a bit slap happy. We spent a short time in El Escorial’s gardens checking out the hedges that were trimmed and sculpted into silly fun patterns. And we ended the visit on a high note with a perfectly yummy lemon icee.