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San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Municipality, Community of Madrid, Spain)

Last modified: 2016-05-22 by ivan sache
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Flag of San Lorenzo de El Escorial - Image by Ivan Sache, 24 July 2015

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Presentation of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (18,241 inhabitants in 2014; 5,640 ha; municipal website) is located in the north-west of the Community of Madrid, 50 km of Madrid and 55 km of Segovia.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial emerged around the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built from 1563 to 1584 by King Philip II. The establishment of the monastery was decided in 1561, together with the transfer of the capital of the kingdom to Madrid.
The monastery and site of San Lorenzo de El Escurial were registered on 2 November 1984 on the UNESCO World Heritage List, with the following description:

An exemplary votive monument, the retreat of a mystic king, the Escurial was, during the closing years of the reign of Philip II, the paradoxical centre of the greatest political power of that period. This royal monastery dedicated to St Lawrence is a unique artistic achievement. There is nothing in the project, in the form or in the design of this monument, which is not exceptional. Although out of keeping with the national temperament, the Escurial exerted a considerable influence in Spain during almost half a century: the gigantic unfinished cathedral of the Asunción of Valladolid was begun around 1580 by Herrera in the same severe style.
The construction of the monastery and site of the Escurial in Madrid was the realization of an unusual vow by Philip II of Spain in repentance for having shelled the church San Lorenzo in 1577. This explains the gigantic expiatory monastery, the general plan of which reproduces the form of an inverted griddle, the instrument of the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. The handle is represented by the Royal Palace, which projects on the eastern side, and four angle towers, 55 m high, represent the feet. The college, the convent and the cloister, all quadrangular in plan, are placed on either side of the central court (Patio de los Reyes) which precedes the church; it is constructed of a bluish granite from Guadarrama.
This ensemble was begun in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo and completed in 1584 by Juan de Herrera. The treatment, deliberately austere, offers a vivid contrast to the traditional Spanish architecture of the Renaissance. Within the church, however, the Capilla Mayor was given a decor as rich as it was imposing: the retablo, 30 m high, the work of an Italian team under the orders of Herrera, unites coloured marbles, paintings, gilding and large bronze statues; in the lateral oratories, two renowned groups, modelled and cast in bronze by Pompeo and Leone Leoni, represent, on the side of the Gospel, Charles V with his family, and on the side of the Epistle, Philip II among his family, dressed in their magnificent attire and frozen in prayer.
Beneath the church is the sepulchral vault of the kings of Spain, whose principal crypt (Pantheon of the Kings) is an octagonal chamber faced with pietra dura incorporating ornaments of gilded bronze.

As soon as the building of the monastery started, offices and houses for the workers and engineers were built in the neighbourhood. The House of the Graduate Students and Professors was built in 1583, followed by the House of Offices (1587-1596).
Philip V stayed more often in La Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia) than in San Lorenzo, which did not prevent him to establish there Barracks for the Royal Guards of the Infantry (1717), to the service of the Court.
Charles III re-established an itinerant Court, which seasonally moved to different Royal Sites: in autumn, the Court moved to San Lorenzo. In 1767, the king promulgated Royal Letters including the Regulation on the building of houses in the Royal Site of San Lorenzo (grant of concessions, tax, quality and hygiene of the buildings). The Regulation forbid the house's owners to stay in the houses in the absence of the king. The architect Juan Esteban drafted a urban plan continuing the orthogonal design imposed by the monastery, adapted to the topography; he designed the Greater House of the Common, the Royal Harquebushry, the House of the Dogs, the St. Charles Hospital (1771) and the Kitchens of His Majesty (1772). Jaime Marquet designed Charles III's Royal Coiiseum (1770). Juan de Villanueva designed the House of the Consul (1768), the Palace of the Marquis of Campo Villar (1769), the House of Infantes Gabrial, Antonio Pascual and Francisco Javier (1769), and the Smaller House of the Infante (1771). Juan Esteban elaborated in 1782 the amendments to the Regulation and designed the Third House of Offices (1785), the House of the Duke of Medinacelli and the House of the Columns (1787); he revamped the Palace of Infantes Carlos María and Francisco de Paula, and increased the public market (1797).
The Royal Site of San Lorenzo was established as a new settlement by Royal Letters signed in 1792 by Charles IV in Aranjuez.

The French invasion (1808) caused the decline of the town. In the middle of the 19th century, San Lorenzo re-emerged as a place of summer vacation for the upper classes of Madrid. A railway was built, while landlords purchased the Royal buildings, which were transformed into hotels. Alfonso XII transferred in 1885 to the Order of St. Augustine the management of the monastery, which was organized into three distinct parts: the Palace, the Convent and the College.

Cuelgamuros, part of San Lorenzo de Escorial, is the site of the basilica of Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), erected from 1940 to 1958 by the architects Pedro Muguruza (until 1950) and Diego Méndez. The establishment of the monument was prescribed by Decrees signed by General Franco in April 1939 and April 1940. Presented as a monument for reconciliation after the Civil War, the basilica keeps the bodies of more than 33,700 fallen during the war, from the two camps. The basilica is dominated by a cross of 150 m in height, erected uphill; the arms of the cross are of 46.40 m in length.
The Benedictine abbey of Valle de los Caídos (official website), appended to the basilica, was established by a Decree-Law adopted on 23 August 1957 and by Brief "Stat Crux" signed by Pope Pius XII on 27 May 1958. The community was inaugurated on 17 July 1958, Justo Pérez de Urbel being blessed as abbot on 23 October 1958 in Madrid. There are today 23 monks living in the abbey.

The site of Valle de los Caídos is still a matter of strong controversy in Spain. Several criticize its neutrality since José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936), the founder of the Spanish Phalanx, and Francisco Franco (1892-1975) are buried in the basilica. Proposals of removal of Franco's rests submitted by leftist parties have been consistently turned down by the conservative parties, arguing that there was no social and political consensus to change anything to the site of Valle de los Caídos.
[ABC, 24 November 2014]

Ivan Sache, 24 July 2015

Symbols of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The flag of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (photos, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) is prescribed by a Decree adopted on 6 August 1987 by the Government of the Community of Madrid and published on 9 October 1987 in the official gazette of the Community of Madrid, No. 240, p. 5 (text), and on 31 October 1987 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 261, p. 32,639 (text).
The flag is described as follows:

Flag: Divided into three horizontal stripes, red, silver and azure, the silver stripe twice wider than the two other. In the center the coat of arms of the municipality.

The description of the flag, together with its rules of use, are given in Article 4 of the Regulation of Ceremonial, Protocol, Honours and Distinctions of the municipality, originally approved on 25 January 2015 by the Municipal Council, eventually adopted on 15 April 2015 by the Municipal Council, and published on 9 May 2015 in the official gazette of the Community of Madrid, No. 109, pp. 111-125 (text).
The red stripe represents the Austrian dynasty.
The silver stripe represents the plain of Parrilla Laurentina.
The blue stripe represents the Bourbon dynasty.
The dimensions of the flag are 2 m x 3 m.

The flag was validated "without any inconvenience" by the Royal Academy of History.
[Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, 1987, 18:3, 568]

The coat of arms of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is prescribed by Decree No. 302, adopted on 15 February 1968 by the Spanish Government and published on 26 February 1968 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 49, p. 2,919 (text).
The coat of arms, validated by the Royal Academy of History, is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Per pale, 1. Argent a grill sable, 2a. Gules a fess argent, 2b. Azure three fleurs-de-lis or. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The description of the coat of arms, together with its rules of use, are given in Article 3 of the aforementioned Regulation of Ceremonial, Protocol, Honours and Distinctions of the municipality (text).
The grill symbolizes the Spanish saint, St. Lawrence, for which the municipality was named. The grill, as the symbol of the saint's martyr, is featured on the main facade of the monastery, whose plan is grill-shaped.
The upper part of the second quarter features the arms of Austria, symbolizing Philip II, founder of the monastery.
The lower part of the second quarter features the arms of Bourbon, symbolizing the founders of the settlement of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.wBR> The Royal Spanish crown symbolizes the municipality as a Royal Site.

Ivan Sache, 24 July 2015