Saturday, July 26, 2014

El Escorial

So I went to El Escorial.

I’ve spent a lot of my life dreaming about living in a palace, as I’m sure many others do. There are always those thoughts of having sweeping staircases, enormous hallways, grand throne rooms, and fancy dresses in which to swish. But mastering the scale is difficult—I live in a house. I have my own room. I go to a school. I go to a church. Comparably, these things are all very small, but when dreaming up my castle, I have nothing else to work with.

Needless to say, it was sort of breathtaking to see what Phillip II made. It’s enormous. If we are to trust Wikipedia, then it has 86 staircases, 9 towers, 1,200 doors, and 2,373 windows (Source). For comparison, my house has 1 staircase, no towers, 19 doors, and 26 windows.

Crazy. But I loved it.

As I said, it was huge—my house could have fit inside a courtyard. Ginormous rooms, full closets, paintings out the wazoo, and two churches. It was meant to be the center of an empire, and while inside, I did not doubt it.

It was history—we were looking at a thing in Latin, understanding it with no success. We gave up, and I commented, “Well, I can read you the Declaration of Independence.” My country has a short history. The native people, though here long before, have been washed aside, and our roots come from Europe. Seeing where those roots had their roots was different, and even a little bit scary. Time is big.

Flickr Credit: Sean Munson
Like in museums, there was art—despite the fact that my dad and I were snarky little tourists (when we came to the big closets full of relics, I said, “Hoarders: Catholic Edition.”), much of the art really was beautiful. An incredible amount of time, detail, and effort was
put into making El Escorial magnificent, and they succeeded. Especially those ceilings—those were insane.

You could fit a T-Rex in there—I asked my dad, and if I thought about the skeleton at the museum, you totally could. Beautiful palace that it was, I also liked the image of a T-Rex on the rampage and destroying everything in sight. So there was that.

And the intent was both political and religious—this palace was meant to be the hub of an empire and a church. The grand scale gives no question. And even though Phillip II was probably a snob (as one might see in the case of Mary Tudor) the fact that he looked to a God and a nation greater than himself amazes me. The overwhelming majority of the art was for his religion, not his own glory. And seeing that come out of a powerful monarch gave me a little bit of hope. Power isn’t everything.

It’s an hour out of Madrid on a turbulent bus ride, but it’s well worth the travel time. I’d go again—and I’d love to open all 1,200 doors, however long it might take.

Have you ever visited El Escorial? What about another palace? Share your thoughts below!

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