Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hola, Espana!

I've always considered knowledge to be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. One must seek to acquire it, strive to obtain it, and work to continuously build upon it. Whether it is reading, traveling, studying or watching documentaries, the thirst for knowledge is empowering. How fortunate the ECC Travelers are to be able to delve first-hand into the culture, people, language, and history of Spain!
We have spent the first two days in Madrid, the heart of Spain. Madrid is home to one million trees and ranks first of the three greenest providences in Europe. Switzerland and Austria fall second and third, respectively.

Today (Sunday), we spent the morning touring the Prado Museum -- home of The Naked Maja, the work of Tiepolo, and remarkable paintings of Saint John the Baptist. The afternoon allowed us to experience what is known as the eighth wonder of the world -- The Royal Monastery of St. Lawrence of Escorial. Simply worded: it's magnificent. Built in the 18th Century (1768) by Felipe II (King Phillip II), his intentions were to build a palace for God, a mausoleum for his father and a cave for himself. It houses 2800 rooms, a collection of geographical maps drawn by hand 470 years ago, a series of wall paintings depicting important Spanish battles and five craved wooden doors given to King Felipe II in 1567 by the Hapsburg family of Austria. A church was built in the very center of the royal complex, and King Felipe built his bedrooms and those of family around the alter. He never had to leave his room to receive communion. While is bedroom connected to the church alter, its windows faced Spain's capital, Madrid. This was his cave -- he built for himself.

To honor his father, he built a beautiful mausoleum of Spanish marble and guilded bronze. Floor to ceiling to tombs in marble and bronze. He built the family burial underneath the heart of the church. It's Baroque style was the first in Spain. The mother and father of the Kings are buried here. Though a King may have had more than one wife, only the one who birthed an heir would be entombed here. Within the tombs are bones alone. One must spend 30 plus years in the rotting room until the body and clothes completely decompose. Then in a private ceremony, the bones are entombed. The current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I (John Charles I), parents are currently decomposing as we speak. Unfortunately, the rotting room is not on tour.

White marbles tomb chamber were built underground as well to house the additional wives and families of the monarchs. A white three-tier chamber houses the children of the monarchs who died in childhood. King Felipe II married four times, all of them leaving him widowed, and only one producing an heir.
King Felipe II's final architectural giant was the monastery or palace for God. It is known as the "triumph of a straight line" as all windows, doors, alters, etc. built of granite stone are perfectly straight. Statues of biblical figures in gold adorn the alter. One of the most incredible historical reference is the full-size white marble statue of Jesus on the Cross. His veins and chest bones are chiseled in the marble. Spanish soldiers before battle bow down and pray before Jesus.

It no wonder its considered the eighth world wonder. I encourage you to Google the site as photographs were not allowed. It's an amazing piece of history. Today certainly was fabulous; can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Adios from Laura Ashley Lamm