Where is El Escorial?
The Royal Palace of El Escorial lies 45km north-west of Madrid and is one of Spain’s most famous sights. Day trips from Madrid to El Escorial are on of the most popular excursions from the capital city.
Felipe II ordered the construction of the palace to commemorate Spain’s victory over France at the Battle of Saint Quentin in 1557 during the Franco-Habsburg War. With practically unlimited funds available from the “New World” it took over 20 years to build El Escorial which at the time was the world’s largest building.
Spanish monarchs as far back as Carlos V are buried here in the Panteón de Reyes and this will be the current monarch’s final resting place. The palace as a whole is testament to the wealth and power of the 16th century Spanish Empire.
Where is El Valle De Los Caídos?
Just 9km north of El Escorial is the Valley of the Fallen which is a monument built by prisoners from both sides during the Spanish Civil War under orders from General Franco. In theory it was built in memory of all those who died in that terrible war yet many Spanish people refuse to visit the site as they believe that in reality it is a memorial to fascism and Franco himself. Since October 2022 the site has been officially known as El Valle de Cuelgamuros.
It is no coincidence that Los Caídos was chosen so close to El Escorial as Franco attempted to glorify his regime. Franco was buried here alongside José Antonio Prima De Vera, his right hand man. In 2019 his remains were exhumed and reburied at the Mingorrubio-El Pardo near Madrid.
Getting from Madrid to El Escorial & Los Caídos
There are plenty options for getting from Madrid to El Escorial by road, rail or public bus. Tour companies also provide daily coach trips there
Madrid to El Escorial by Car
By road you head northwest out of the city on the A-6 for about 18km until you reach Las Rozas. Here you bear off to the left on the M-505 which takes you to El Escorial. The drive is only 45km and shouldn’t take more than about 50 minutes. Realistically though you’re not likely to hire a car if you’re only in Madrid for a few days as you’ll have no use for it around the city. Public transport or private tours are a better option.
Madrid to El Escorial by Train
The extensive local train network which serves the Madrid region is known as the ‘Cercanías’ which provides hourly trains to El Escorial from Chamartín station in the north of the city and Atocha station in the south. The line you’re looking for is C8A. From Chamartín it takes 50 minutes to El Escorial (15 minutes more from Atocha) arriving in the centre of the town of El Escorial which is about a 15 minute walk to the actual monastery. If you don’t fancy this uphill walk there are local buses and taxis that take you there.
Madrid to El Escorial by Bus
Personally I’d recommend taking the bus as the best public transport option for getting to El Escorial. Just make your way to the Metro (underground) station at Moncloa which also houses the bus station. There are departures every 15 minutes which take less than an hour to San Lorenzo de El Escorial which is just a short (and easy) walk to the monastery. These buses are generally of a very high standard and there’s no need to get tickets in advance as you simply pay the driver.
Organised Tours from Madrid to El Escorial
There are daily coach excursions to El Escorial and Valle De Los Caídos which leave central Madrid at around 9am. Tours include transport by modern, air-conditioned coaches, entrance fees and the services of a local tour guide.
History of El Escorial & Los Caídos
History of El Escorial
Philip II of Spain’s army defeated the French in the Battle of St Quentin on 10th August, 1557 – St Lawrence’s Day. It was for this reason that the Spanish monarch ordained that the Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo should construct a grand edifice of commemoration which could also be used as a burial place for Philip’s parents and a centre for students attempting to counter the forces of the Protestant Reformation. The actual construction of El Escorial began in 1563 and took just 21 years to complete.
The immense building, constructed mainly from the local grey granite, looks like a fortress with its enormous towers in each of the four corners of the quadrangle shape. The rectangular area covers something like 30,000 square metres in total with 9 towers altogether along with 88 fountains and 16 patios. In the centre of the complex is the gigantic dome of the basilica. There are many similarities in design between San Lorenzo and the Alcázar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada although most experts claim now that the floor plan was based largely upon descriptions of the Temple of Soloman.
One of the most visited parts of El Escorial is the Pantheon of the Kings which contains, within its 26 marble sepulchres, the remains of nearly all the Spanish rulers and their consorts. The remains of Juan de Borbón and his wife – the grandparents of King Felipe VI – are at present in a pudridero, or decaying chamber, until they are placed in the sepulchres reserved for them.
History of Los Caídos (El Valle de Cuelgamuros)
The valley itself is now preserved as a National Park and there are at least 40,000 bodies buried beneath the valley floor – both Nationalist and Republican. The names of the dead are commemorated in a register. Franco announced the building of the monument on April 1st, 1940 – the day of his victory parade to celebrate the first anniversary of his success. The underground crypt, the Basilica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de Los Caídos, is one of the world’s largest basilicas. It is known that upwards of 12,000 political prisoners created the crypt by digging into solid granite, an operation which took 18 years.
At the summit of a cliff known as Risco de la Nava is the largest free-standing cross in the world. This can be reached either by foot or by a funicular railway from the basilica.The cross, made from granite, stands 492 feet high with a width of 154 feet, and has four huge statutes of the Evangelists at its base. On the other side of the mountain there is a Benedictine Abbey where the priests say perpetual Masses for the war dead.
When Franco died in 1975, it was decided to bury him in the church itself, along with the previously buried José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish Falange. After decades of controversy Franco’s remains were exhumed in 2019 and reburied at the Mingorrubio-El Pardo cemetery near Madrid.