Monday, December 14, 2009

El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen

Our last weekend stop was the imposing palace of El Escorial, about 50 km northwest of Madrid. This giant, gloomy building made of grey-black stone looks more like a prison than a palace. About 650 feet long and 500 feet wide, it has 2600 windows, 1200 doors, more than 100 miles of passages, and 1600 overwhelmed tourists.
It was a blustery, snowy day when we went - so forgive the borrowed internet images. I say it is not supposed to snow in sunny Spain! But it did. Brrrr. El Escorial really was beautiful --- too beautiful to see the grey, blurry shots we took. Inside were grand staircases, lavish ballrooms, and corridors of priceless art. This painting on the ceiling took my breath away with the bright, vivid colors. As did this crowded ceiling of heavenly hosts!
Who needs a chapel like this in their home?!? I mean, really. El Escorial is the historic home of the King of Spain. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, mausoleum and school. Built by Phillip II of Spain, it was constructed in demonstration and support of Catholicism within a world of Reformation.The artistic masterpieces were many. I am always perplexed at the palaces that hold art equivalent to an art museum. Did they have the same museum-like setup when royals actually lived there? Fascinating, just not very homey. Although I guess homey was not exactly what they were going for! The above painting, The Martyrdom of St Maurice, is by El Greco. I never knew of El Greco before this trip, but this was the first of many of his paintings that would make me linger and think during my Madrid week. He is my new favorite Spanish artist.The Hall of Battles was startling. A long hall with extraordinary military detail - celebrating Spain's great military victories. I originally turned my nose up at the Hall of Battles realizing we would have to lug Connor plus stroller up additional stairs to see it, but jiminy cricket I never knew a painting of war could be so striking.We ended up speed walking through El Escorial's mausoleum because that was when Connor announced that she needed a potty. Of course in the bowels of the palace with not a toilet anywhere near. But out of the corner of my eye I was taken aback with the sheer quantity of dead here. Rows upon rows and walls upon walls. Pretty creepy if you ask me.To top El Escorial off - the library. Chic and ornate. Those books have quite the abode!
From El Escorial we traveled down the road to the Valley of the Fallen. Again, still snowing, so these are not my shots. The Valley of the Fallen is located high in the Guadarrama Mountains and honors the victims of Spain's Civil War (1936-1939). In the photo below you can glimpse the enormous and emotional pieta draped over the basilica's entrance (pieta is the word for Mary holding a crucified Jesus). It is huge - supposedly big enough you could literally sit in the palm of Christ's hand. As Rick writes, "It must have had a powerful impact on mothers who came here to remember their fallen sons"
This part of the monument - a basilica - is located completely underground. Below the 500-foot-tall granite cross.
Thirty-three months of warfare killed 200,000 Spaniards. Unlike America's Civil War, which split America roughly north and south, Spain's war was between classes and ideologies, dividing every city and village, and many families. Sounds like a horrible war. They always seem worse when within the same country.
Ironically, Kirk learned during his workweek that Spain currently is hovering at a 20 percent unemployment rate. Traditionally when this statistic creeps any higher revolution begins. We thought it a disturbing comment from the Spanish partner. Will have to keep an eye on Spain's economy...

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