El Escorial

Hey y’all! Today we took a little field trip about an hour outside Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a small town in the mountains. El Escorial is the home of a beautiful Monastery built by el Rey Felipe II of Spain. El Escorial is a monastery, palace, school, and library today; it is huge!

Apparently, King Felipe II was very religious, and as we are learning in class, fought many wars for Catholicism against the Protestants during his reign. He decided to build this place to display the wealth and power of Spain after one of the battles, where he felt he had lost some control. It is a beautiful place and boasts many paintings, a beautiful basilica, the crypt of the royal family of Spain and a library that holds over 40,000 first editions (so cool!). It was so fun to see and learn the history. One of the girls who works at the Fundación, where I go to class, came with us (and of course our angel, Tania!) and gave us our own little private tour. Sasha is super sweet!

Raha and I at El Escorial

One of my favorite parts was the crypt. Sounds funny, I know, but it was beautiful. The crypt where all the kings and all the queens who have produced an heir (if you know Spanish history, they had lots of problems and lots of wives) are in one room that is made out of two dark-colored marbles accented with gold. It is unreal. It was also interesting that all the tombs hold only bones; we passed the room on the way down to the crypt, where they do the removal of all that other good stuff. The rest of the crypt holds all the princes and princesses, aunts and uncles, etc. who were not a king or queen. The place was just brimming with Spanish history, so it was really cool to see what we had been learning about in class.

After an hour or so lunch break in the little town, we headed back to the good ol’ bus and drove just about 15 minutes to el Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).  For one, the scenery was breathtaking. Once again I got a good breather from the city and could just inhale the crisp, cool, fresh mountain air. El Valle de los Caídos was actually my favorite part of today, although that is really hard to say! El Valle de los Caídos, besides holding some fabulous views of the pine-covered mountains spotted with brilliant yellow trees, is a mausoleum, monument and basilica built by Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, to honor and bury those who fell during the Spanish Civil War.

The odd thing is how he chose to fashion the mausoleum. It is built to be very imposing, very oppressive, which isn’t so unusual considering Franco’s dictatorship. And I could feel it. It really didn’t seem like a basilica, definitely didn’t feel like a place of worship. It is enormous, and the cross on top is 500 feet tall, to give you some perspective! Franco wanted to show his power.

Inside is rather dark, as you walk into the mountainside, under a large sculpture that mimics the Pieta, and past two large angelic figures with huge swords. Franco is buried in the floor just down from the altar in a round room that seems to be guarded by the four archangels.  The mausoleum has been a subject of great controversy, as Franco buried 20,000 soldiers who fought on his side, but also 20,000 republican soldiers. The problem is that the families of the 20,000 republican soldiers, first, don’t like having them buried with the ‘enemies,’ and second, the republican soldiers were stolen from mass graves. El Valle de los Caídos was a very intriguing stop.

El Valle de los Caídos

After a quick bus ride back, with all of us asleep in the back, we made it back to Madrid. I’m so blessed to be able to see all these new places! It really is something special to see a new part of this great world, and see a part of it so full of history.