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Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The huge granite rectangular edifice, topped with four spiral towers, is a foreboding sight in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 30 miles (50km) northwest of Madrid. El Escorial was a marriage of the power of the Roman Catholic Church and Spanish royalty in the 16th and 17th centuries, at once a monastery and a royal palace. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1584 and took almost 21 years to build. The monastery/church/palace complex was built by Philip II as a memorial to his father, Charles V, as a summer residence, and as a final resting place for Spanish royalty. The complex is similar to the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada in layout, but the architectural style and decor is far more austere. Apart from the fascinating history, the complex is a vast storehouse for art, containing works by El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian and Tintoretto, among many others. A magnificent vaulted library, covered in frescoes, contains a priceless collection of more than 60,000 ancient manuscripts. The monastery itself houses a wealth of paintings and tapestries, and the Royal Pantheon beneath the royal chapel is the tomb of almost all Spanish royalty since Philip II. No photography is permitted in the complex. El Escorial is best explored on a guided tour or with the audio guide as the basic ticket doesn't grant access to as many areas and the majority of textual explanations are in Spanish.

Address: Calle Juan de Borbon y Battemberg

Telephone: 91 890 5903, or 91 890 5313

Transport: Bus 661 and 664 from Madrid, or the Madrid-El Escorial train

Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm (until 5pm between October and March)

Admission: €10 (unguided). Guided tours and audio guides available for extra cost. Concessions available.