Sunday, December 20, 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

In completing my El Camino Real posts, I remembered the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, which I visited in the early 1970s, accompanied by a staff member of the Ataio Ingenieros, the Spanish sales agency of electronic instruments in Madrid. I believe I was told that El Escorial tells us more about Spain than any of the others. I think he was right.

El Escorial was built by King Philip II (1527-1598), who ruled one of the world’s largest empire, yet had to live in disgrace after the Spanish Armada lost the decisive fleet battle trying to invade England in 1588.

He was the champion of the Roman Catholic counter reformation backed by the Pope, and promoted the interests of Catholicism well beyond Spain’s borders, the Philippines (country named after him) and Espana Nueva. The King sent missionaries to all.

El Escorial is 30 miles (45km) northwest of Madrid, easily reachable by train. The UNESCO World Heritage designation came in 1984. Half a million people visited the Monastery in 2005. I found this colossal building description written by Carlos Fuentes, (1928-2012):

“Philip II built El Escorial as an imposing medieval, Renaissance, and neoclassical monument with a basic structure typical of medieval monasteries and hospitals. The edifice itself consists of a 101-by 261-meter granite rectangular building constructed in a shape of a grill, located 1,000 meters above sea level in the foothills of Guadarrama Mountains. The walls rise six stories on the exterior, with towers at each of the four corners reaching above these walls; the towers have spires bearing crosses at the top. A basilica near the center of the structure also towers high above the walls. The enormous dimensions and complexity of the building can be appreciated by taking into account its 2600 windows, 1200 doors, 459 towers, 88 fountains, 86 staircases, 16 patios, 15 cloisters and 9 towers.”

Please see the ground plan below. There is a King’s palace, pantheon, basilica, mausoleum, schools, libraries and courtyards. One of the most elegant pieces are the crypts of the kings. Their families are entombed separately. The monastery serves also as a great museum with 1600 paintings and 500 frescos.

Construction took about 20 years, while King Philip occupied a sparse apartment where he worked hard, and was nicknamed the Crowned Missionary. He had a penchant for detail. Almost every document of state passed through his hands, as he did not trust his subordinates with them; however he treated servants and nobles with equal courtesy. He was good at Latin, but seemed weak in English as evidenced in his early days in England married to Queen Mary I who died at the age of 42.

I might just add about an Englishman, William Adams (1564-1620), well-known in Japan as Anjin Miura, the blue-eyed Samurai, who landed in Kyushu on one of the shipwrecked Dutch East Indian boats which was among the Royal Navy of England that defeated the Spanish Armada. It is important to note that British-made canons salvaged from his boat were used by Tokugawas in the fight against Toyotomis in the decisive civil war of feudal Japan at Sekigahara. The British canons on 4-wheeled trestles worked far better than what the Spaniards used on clumsy 2-wheels. They were quicker and had more aim. Anjin helped Tokugawas in boat making as well as gunnery practice.

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