Escurial (Sp. el Escorial), a palace and mausoleum of the kings of Spain, in Escorial de Abajo, a town of 2,000 inhabitants, in a barren region, 2,970 ft. above the sea, on the S. E. slope of the Sierra Guadarama, in New Castile, 25 m. N. W. of Madrid, with which it is connected by railway. The correct title of this celebrated palace is "El real sitio de San Lorenzo el real del Escorial," so called from having been built in fulfilment of a vow made by Philip II. that he would build the most magnificent monastery in the world if St. Lawrence would give him victory over the French in the battle of St. Quentin, fought on that saint's day (Aug. 10, 1557). St. Lawrence suffered martyrdom by being broiled on a gridiron, and by a quaint conceit of the king or his architects, the ground plan is in the form of a gridiron, with handle and bars complete. Voltaire and other French writers have claimed for a Frenchman named Louis Foix the honor of having been the architect of the Escurial; but it is beyond doubt that Juan Bautista de Toledo commenced it from his own plans, and on his death in 1567 it was continued by his pupil, Juan de Herrera. The foundation was commenced on St. George's day, April 23, 1563. Twenty-one years' labor and a sum equal to $15,000,000 were expended in completing the work.
The body of the gridiron is represented by 17 ranges of buildings, crossing each other at right angles, forming a parallelogram enclosing 24 courts, with a square tower 200 ft. high flanking each of the four corners of the edifice, thus representing a gridiron reversed, the towers being the upturned feet. A wing 460 ft. long represents the handle of the implement, and contains the royal apartments. The average height of the walls is 60 ft. The total length of the edifice is 740 ft. 1ST. and S., and 580 ft. E. and W. It contains the royal palace, royal chapel, monastery with 200 cells, 2 colleges, 3 chapter houses, 3 libraries, 5 great halls, 6 dormitories, 3 hospital halls, 27 other halls, 9 refectories, 5 infirmaries, a countless number of apartments for attendants, 80 staircases, 1,110 windows looking outward and 1,578 inward, or, including outhouses, 4,000 in all, besides 14 gates and 86 fountains. The whole edifice is built of white stone spotted with gray, resembling granite, and quarried on the site. The general aspect of the Escurial is that of a freshly erected pile, rising from the midst of plantations, and more imposing from its magnitude than from grandeur of architecture. The Dorie is the prevailing order.
The E. and W. terraces overlook the slopes; the N. and W. sides front the mountain, and are connected with the village by a subterranean gallery tunnelled in 1770 as a means of communication during storms. The most striking feature of the edifice is the church, built in general imitation of St. Peter's at Rome, in the form of a Greek cross with a cupola and two towers. It contains 40 chapels with their altars, and is 364 ft. long, 230 broad, divided into seven aisles, paved with black marble and roofed by the dome rising 330 ft. from the floor. The grand altar, 90 ft. high and 50 ft. wide, is of jasper and gilded bronze. Eighteen pillars, each 18 ft. high, of red and green jasper, support an estrade on which the altar is placed. Porphyry and marbles of the richest description incrust the walls, and on either side are statue portraits of the kings. Directly under the high altar, so that the host may be raised above the dead, is a mausoleum built by Philip IV., from a design after the Roman pantheon. This burial place is 36 ft. in diameter, with walls of jasper and black marble. Here the remains of all the sovereigns of Spain since Charles V. repose in niches one above another. Another burial place in one of the chapels is called the pantheon of the infantas.
Several fine paintings adorn the church, but it is much shorn of its embellishments since it was plundered by the French. Benvenuto Cellini's marble " Christ," presented to Philip by the grand duke of Tuscany, and brought from Barcelona on men's shoulders, is still shown here, and an immense collection of saintly relics amassed by the founder may also be seen. The interior of the church is a triumph of architectural effect, grand, massive, and solemn. On its steps are six colossal statues in granite, with marble heads and hands, and gilt crowns. These are called the kings of Judea. The edifice forms one side of a court, facing a finely sculptured portal, which opened twice for every Spanish monarch, once when he was carried through it after his birth, and once after his death, when three nobles and three priests bore him to the tomb. The royal apartments contain little worthy of notice, excepting two picture galleries, from which, however, most of the chefs d'oeuvre have been removed to Madrid. The arched room of the great library is 194 ft. long, 32 wide, and 36 high. The ceilings were painted in fresco by Bartholomew Carducci. The library was said before the French invasion to have contained 30,000 printed and 4,300 MS. volumes, but we have no accurate estimate of its present contents.
It is believed to contain between 4,000 and 5,000 MSS., of which 567 are Greek, 67 Hebrew, and 1,800 Arabic. The Arabic MSS. are not accessible to visitors. A portion of the library was destroyed by fire in 1671, and again in 1761; and the buildings were again seriously damaged from the same cause in October, 1872.