Iberian Adventure – Page 06

El Escorial

We now begin Day 4 with an early wake up and early out. Today we are bused  28 miles from Madrid to  the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial,   It is one of the Spanish royal sites  and has functioned as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university and hospital.  it is now a monastery of the Order of St Augustine. It is also now an active boarding school.

The floor plan of the building is in the form of a gridiron. The traditional belief is that this design was chosen in honor of St. Lawrence , who, in the third century AD, was martyred by being roasted to death on a grill.

There is even a statue of him holding his own personal grill.

A more persuasive theory for the origin of the floor plan is that it is based on descriptions of the Temple of Solomon: a portico followed by a courtyard open to the sky, followed by a second portico and a second courtyard, all flanked by arcades and enclosed passageways, leading to the “holy of holies”. Statues of David and Solomon on either side of the entrance to the basilica .

Here is the second courtyard and entrance to the basilica

The basilica is quite ornate. The most highly decorated part of the church is the area surrounding the high altar. Behind the altar is a three-tiered  altar screen (retablo), made of red granite and jasper, nearly 80 feet tall, adorned with gilded bronze statuary , and three sets of religious paintings commissioned by King Philip II. To either side are gilded life-size bronzes of the kneeling family groups of Charles and Philip,

Situated next to the main altar of the Basilica, the residence of King Philip II is made up of a series of austerely decorated rooms. One room features a window from which the king could observe mass from his bed when incapacitated by the gout that afflicted him.

From a tourist’s (mine) view point, probably the most interesting room in the Escorial is the royal crypt.  If you return to the top of this page you will see a structure on the lower right that looks like an addition.  This was the royal residence of King Philip II.

Beneath the residence reached through a steep anrrow stairway is the crypt. This chamber consists of twenty-six identical marble sepulchers containing the remains of the kings and queens.  The sepulchers also contain the remains of royal consorts who were parents of monarchs.

The neat thing about these sepulchers is that they contain only the bones of the person inside. Before a King or Queen could occupy his or her sepulcher they had to spend time in the “rotting room” being tended by special Monks. When the rotting is complete, the bones are cleaned and placed in his or her special place.

Creepy, eh?

If you think that’s creepy, check this out:

This is a memorial to dead soldiers from the Spanish Civil War. It was built by the victor in that war: Francisco Franco. It is located near to the Escorial in a place called the “Valley of the Fallen”. The complex was built between 1940 and 1958 and is a monument intended to commemorate all those who died on both sides during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

The charge that the monument site was “like a Nazi concentration camp” refers to the use of convicts labor, including Spanish Republican Army war prisoners, trading their labor for a reduction in time served. Although Spanish law at the time prohibited forced labor, it did provide for convicts to choose voluntary work on the basis of redeeming two days of conviction for each day worked. This law was in force until 1995.

This benefit was increased to six days when labor was carried out at the basilica with a salary of 7 pesetas per day, a regular worker’s salary for that time, with the possibility of the family of the convict benefiting from the housing and Catholic children’s schools built in the valley for the other workers.

Only convicts with a record of good behaviour would qualify for this redemption scheme, as the works site was considered to be a low security environment. The motto used by the Spanish Nationalist government was “el trabajo enoblece” (“Work ennobles”). This is similar to: “Work shall Set You Free” a Nazi Slogan

It is claimed that by 1943, the number of prisoners who were working at the site reached close to six hundred. It is also claimed that up to 20,000 prisoners were used for the overall construction of the monument and surrounding structures and that forced labor took place.

Entrance to the basilica is through the arched door in the center of the colonnades.

This is what the inside of the basilica looks like. The basilica was excavated in the rock and extends along an 860 feet long nave with six chapels containing the dead solders remains (the three chapels on each side has an altar and behind each altar is a sealed tunnel containing the remains) devoted to the Virgin Mary. That’s longer than St Peter’s in theVatican, Rome. which is normally regarded as the overall largest church in the world.

At the foot of the high altar are the graves of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish Falange party. About 40,000 Nationalist and Republican soldiers are buried here,

Above the memorial is a 500 foot cross. Built on top of a rocky cliff  at 1,400 meters above sea level, the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen is the largest in the world. This enormous cross of granite was made by architect Diego Méndez, and it is 492 feet high (including the base. Its arms are oriented north-south and have a width of 154 feet from fingertip to fingertip.

Back to Madrid  in time for a walk and dinner with the Three Amigos and an early night and to also pack up for our next days journey to Granada.

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