El Escorial, world heritage
El Escorial, located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 45 km northwest of Madrid, is a historical residence of the king of Spain. It functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum and school. El Escorial is comprised of two historical architectural complexes: The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo El Real and La Granjilla de La Fresnada, a royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat situated about 5 km away. The Royal Site of San Lorenzo of El Escorial was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on November 2, 1984. It remains an extremely popular tourist attraction.
The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo El Real was built by King Philip II to house the remains of his parents, Charles I and Isabella of Portugal. The Renaissance complex combines a palace and monastery. King Philip appointed the Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo architect-royal in 1559, and they designed El Escorial together. In addition to providing a resting place for the internment of the remains of his parents, Philip envisioned El Escorial as a center for studies in aid of the Counter-Reformation cause.
The building's cornerstone was laid on April 23, 1563. Upon Toledo's death in 1567, direction passed to his apprentice, Juan de Herrera, under whom the building was completed in 1584. Since then, El Escorial has been the burial site for most of the Spanish kings of the last five centuries. The building itself is mostly built from locally-quarried grey granite, and it is sparsely-decorated and austere in appearance. It takes the form of a huge quadrangle, which encloses a series of intersecting courtyards, passageways and chambers. There is a square tower surmounted by a spire at each of the four corners. The round dome of the basilica is situated in the center of the complex.
El Escorial also houses an extensive art collection, including masterworks by El Greco, Titian, Vel├ízquez, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Roger van der Weyden, Alonso Cano, Claudio Coello, and Jos├ę de Ribera among others. The complex's Architectural Museum has eleven rooms exhibiting the tools, cranes and other materials used in the construction of the edifice, as well as reproductions of the blueprints and documents related to the project. The library's collection consists of more than 40,000 volumes, including Philip II's personal collection of documents. The vault of the library's ceiling is decorated with frescoes depicting the seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Music, Dialectic, Grammar, Geometry, Arithmetic and Astronomy.