Friday, March 9, 2012

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Today, on this lovely Friday, I went with BU to visit San Lorenzo de El Escorial.  This was my third time visiting the monastery, and I appreciated it more than I have in the past.  When you re-visit a place, it becomes familiar to you, and you notice new details.  This monastery also serves as a palace, a church, and a library.  Unfortunately, the policy prohibits photography dentro del edificio, but I was able to sacar a few photos outside.

This monastery was the residence of el rey Felipe II, and he was all about power and control.  In addition to having a hand in the design for his palace, this king was constantly around to watch over the building process to make sure everything was just as he wanted.  He even consulted with astrologists to find the perfect location to build his palace-monastery combo.  I believe they started building in 1563, and it took over 20 years to complete the project.  Special attention was given to the symbolic placement of the church, the king's rooms, and the queen's rooms.  The tomb, which holds the remains of many past kings and queens of Spain, is located directly under the altar in the church.  Even security was taken into account.  In order to get to the king's quarters, a visitor would have to pass through most of the rest of the building, and would get stopped by many people on the way.  From his bedroom, the king could look one direction to see the countryside, and the other direction toward the church.  I was surprised to find that my bedroom at home is bigger than the king's bedroom in his palace.  With regard to my room in Madrid, the king's view was definitely better.  He looked at the countryside, and I look at my clothes line.  At least I have cute clothes.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Much of the art in the monastery portrays the kings power.  There are depictions of different battles and many maps which show the expanse of the kingdom.  Interestingly, the walls of the monastery are fairly plain.  Instead of being pretentious, the king just wanted the place to function as it was supposed to.  Even in the church, the altar is decorated and luxurious while the walls are plain.  Actually, the place is really austere, and therefore impresses the idea of power and control upon the visitor.  In addition to being plain, many of the monastery's walls are made of stone, which makes the place chilly.  I guess you can't install a vent and heating system in stone walls.  It's really, really cold in the monastery even when it's warm and sunny outside.  El Escorial is also very dry, and the combination of dry and cold seems to preserve the art in the monastery nicely.  There was a pretty interesting painting of a halfway beheaded man, and another of a woman curled up to a skull.  There was a nice El Greco too.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Each time I have visited, the biblioteca has been my favorite room because it explodes with color in comparison to the rest of the monastery.  The arched ceiling boasts a fresco that screams with Italian influence.  Looking up, I instinctively checked out the middle of the painting to look for Michaelangelo's scene of the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel where the fingers almost touch.  But that's in Rome.  Gotta wait until next month to see that one.  Aside from the ceiling, the books are incredible.  They sit backwards on the shelves so that the pages can "breathe".  It's a conservation technique.  The outward-facing edges of the books' pages are gold, and each book carries a small number so you can figure out which book it is without reading the title on the binding.  In the middle of the long hallway library rest globes of the world, the sky, and anything you can put on a globe.  I love globes!  Another painting shows some philosophers, including Aristotle (Aristoteles), Plato, and Socrates, gathering.  This room is gold, colorful, reasonable, and fabulous.  Every time I go there, I wish I could take a picture of the books.

Franco's Tomb (2009)
Back in 2009, we went to el Valle de los Caídos to see tomb of General Francisco Franco, the former dictator of Spain.  The place is really overwhelming.  It's dark, shadowy, cold, unsettling, and most of all, intimidating, exactly as intended.  Since my first visit, the tomb has been closed to visitors because some of the rocks started falling from the towering ceiling, and it wouldn't be safe.  As far as I know, a decision about restoration has not been yet been made.  Letting it completely fall would be symbolic, but re-opening the tomb for visitors would help future generations learn about the country's history.

El Valle de los Caídos (2009)

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