As presents go, San Lorenzo del Escorial is hard to beat.
El Escorial is a Monastery, Cathedral, Royal Retreat and Burial Place of Kings all within one building. It was built as a gift to God, his people, and "himself", by Fillipe II in the sixteenth century, to comemorate the 1557 victory over France. So, situated only an hours journey from Madrid, I finally made the trip there after hearing the Spanish continously raving on about it since my arrival.
Fillipe ordered that the finished piece be "Majestic without Ostentention", and despite it´s colossal size it is just that. Perhaps that is why it has become so popularly acclaimed throughout Spain and beyond. Amazingly completed within a space of 21 years, the granite complex includes the burial place of all Spain´s monarchs since. The Mausaleum as it is called is absolutely spectacular. Interestingly there will be no space in the marble and gold cavern for the reigning and popular King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. This is because the last two places will be filled by the King´s parents (deprived of their throne by Franco) on the thirtieth year after their death.
I found El Escorial truly breathtaking for the unusual simplicity of the exterior. Given that it was built by the Habsburgs, the same family who created Budapest, Vienna and Prague, I suppose I shouldn´t have been at all surprised by their tastes and legacy.
For me however, the most impressive feature was the sun dial which ran along the floor of the Kings personal quarters. The dial stretches in a straight, engraved line, ten meters along the ground and is operated by means of a small aperture in the roof. I reckon that it enabled fat old Fillipe to to read the time by hardly lifting his head, while he lounged back in his sofa and watched "Match of the day". He really did think of everything !!