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A writer lived here: Spain’s house-museums with literary history

From the corner where Miguel de Cervantes was inspired to create Don Quixote to Miguel de Unamuno’s library, Lope de Vega’s vegetable garden, the room where Ramón María del Valle-Inclán was born or the living room where Emilia Pardo Bazán held her gatherings, we enter the writers’ kitchens to recover their literary spirit transformed into works of art. Today, 18 May, when International Museum Day is celebrated under the slogan “The power of museums”, we travel through these rooms to take a journey through the time and life of our most famous authors.

In addition to the Residencia de Estudiantes, where some of the most outstanding figures of Spanish culture such as Federico García Lorca, Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel and Severo Ochoa passed through, or the Museum of Romanticism, which recreates the daily life and customs of the upper middle class during this period and whose rooms contain objects belonging to Mariano José de Larra, José de Zorrilla and Juan Ramón Jiménez, there is a whole tour of the geographical map of Spain’s houses-museums that evoke the spirit of various periods and the spirit of our leading intellectuals and authors, José de Zorrilla and Juan Ramón Jiménez, there is a whole tour of the Spanish geographical map of house museums that evoke the spirit of various periods and of our leading intellectuals and authors.

Echoes of lives such as that of José Zorrilla and his time in the House Museum in Valladolid, where the romantic poet and playwright was born in February 1817 and which conserves the rooms, living rooms, dining room and desk that occupied his early childhood until 1824; or the daily life of Gabriel y Galán in his home in Guijo de Granadilla, with personal objects or evocations of some of his best-known poems such as El embargo.

In the footsteps of the great Galicians

A key author of 20th-century Spanish literature, Valle-Inclán was born in 1866 in the Casa de O Cuadrante in Vilanova de Arousa, which today houses a permanent exhibition that traces his life, as well as the first editions of his books and documents. Owner of a restless and travelling spirit, it was after returning from his first transatlantic voyage to the Americas that he lived in a beautiful mansion located in Pobra do Caramiñal.

“My house in the Torres de Bermúdez is the most beautiful house in the city, very 16th century, very genuine architecturally, with beautiful gargoyles. All in Renaissance style”, he once wrote. A family heirloom on his father’s side, built between 1540 and 1545, the writer always showed a weakness for this home, which he sold in 1898 after moving to Madrid. Declared a national historic-artistic monument in 1976, it was inaugurated as a museum in 1987 and houses first editions of the books by the author of Luces de Bohemia, original manuscripts, photographs and period objects.

Also in Galicia, we find the Rosalía de Castro House Museum. Located in A Matanza (Padrón), under this roof the famous poet lived until her death with her husband, the writer Manuel Murguía and their children. In homage to the writer, a small garden gives way to this charming place that recreates a rural house of the time, with a kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms and library, while evoking the importance of her literary work.

In the province of A Coruña, now in its capital, we find the home of another famous Galician writer, Emilia Pardo Bazán. Born in 1851, the writer’s parents moved four years later to an 18th century building at 11, Tabernas Street. As a reminder of her childhood and youth, she wrote most of her novels in these rooms, where she stayed even after her marriage, and held her famous Thursday get-togethers, as well as large parties, such as the one in honour of Unamuno. Today, her visit evokes the literary spirit of this period through the furniture, works of art, books and other personal belongings of the author of Los pazos de Ulloa.

Galdós and Unamuno, two old friends

Pardo Bazán’s partner and eminent writer, we have to travel to the Canary Islands to find the House-Museum of another of the great Spanish authors, Benito Pérez Galdós. Located at number 6 Calle Cano, in this late 18th and early 19th century building, the author of the National Episodes or Fortuna and Jacinta was born in 1843 and lived there until he was 19 years old and went to try his luck in Madrid. An example of traditional Canarian architecture, the building houses unique pieces such as the portrait of Pérez Galdós painted by Joaquín Sorolla, his personal library, original documentation and the furniture and other objects that formed part of his life throughout the three homes he lived in in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Madrid and Santander.

From the circle of friends of Pardo Bazán and Pérez Galdós was another great Spanish intellectual, Miguel de Unamuno, to whom several museums have also been dedicated that evoke his life. The first of these is the Casa Museo Unamuno, which was built in the mid-18th century as a residence for the future rectors of the University of Salamanca. Located in what is now Calle Libreros in the city, the writer lived under its roof with his wife and children from 1900 to 1914, the year in which he was removed from his post. It was there that he wrote some of his most famous works, such as Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho, Poesías and Niebla. Today, in addition to manuscripts, newspaper articles, correspondence, photographs and drawings, this room houses his personal library, with nearly 6,000 volumes, donated by Unamuno himself to the University shortly before his death.

After his time in Salamanca, and due to his constant attacks on King Alfonso XIII and Miguel Primo de Rivera, the writer was exiled to Fuerteventura, where he lived for a few months, from March to June 1924. There he lived in a 19th century house that today is also a small museum in honour of the intellectual, which recreates his rooms, the kitchen and the living room where he worked.

Located on the southern edge of the Cimadevilla neighbourhood, within the walls of the Roman-medieval citadel of Gijón, we come to the home of one of the most representative men of the Spanish Enlightenment. Philosopher, literary man, jurist and politician, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos was born in 1744 within the walls of this place that since 1971 has been converted into a museum, one of the oldest stately buildings in the city. It houses part of the original furniture and paintings from the enlightened intellectual’s personal collection, as well as exhibitions and documentation related to the writer’s life and work.

Houses with verses: Miguel Hernández, Federico García Lorca and Juan Ramón Jiménez

Travelling south, we follow in the footsteps of one of our most important poets. “Paraíso local, creación postrera, /si breve de mi casa; /sitiado abril, tapiada primavera, /donde mi vida pasa/ calmándole la sed cuando le abrasa”, composed Miguel Hernández, leaning on the fig tree where he used to sit to write, over the orchard of his house in Orihuela, which today evokes his presence, and where he lived with his parents and brothers from 1914 to 1934, when he left for Madrid. His House Museum is located in Miguel Hernández street in the town of Alicante.

From the verses of Miguel Hernández to those of Federico García Lorca. Born on 5 June 1898, the poet from Granada spent his childhood in the Fuente Vaqueros house. Built in 1880, it was inaugurated as a museum space in 1986 with the aim of keeping alive the memory of the author of Poet in New York. After this first childhood, Lorca’s family moved to Valderrubio, from 1905 to 1909, to Calle Iglesia, where today a traditional farmhouse is preserved, with two floors, which evokes the years of that second childhood, and which would become the summer home until 1925, when the family began to move to the country house of the Huerta de San Vicente, now also a museum.  It was there that the poet began to write works such as Yerma, Bodas de sangre and Romancero gitano.

To his time in Valderrubio belongs, however, another of his famous titles, La casa de Bernarda Alba. It was in the well shared by the houses of Francisca Alba Sierra, Frasquita Alba, and her aunt Matilde, where the poet began to imagine this play, premiered in 1945 in Buenos Aires. Located today in the town’s Calle Real, the building has been open to the public since 2018.

And from Valderrubio to Moguer. “Here, in this big house, today the barracks of the Civil Guard, I was born, Platero, how I loved it as a child and how rich I thought this poor Mudejar balcony in the style of Maestro Garfia, with its stars of coloured crystals…”, wrote Juan Ramón Jiménez in his famous work about the donkey. The poet was born on 23 December 1881 in Moguer and his birthplace has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest since 2015.

However, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature spent most of his youth in what is now known as the Casa Museo Zenobia-Juan Ramón Jiménez. In this typical Andalusian building from the late 18th century, the poet lived with his family until he was 20 years old, when, after the death of his father, he left for Madrid. The institution, which is currently responsible for the management of the museum, the conservation of the legacy of Juan Ramón Jiménez and the promotion of activities aimed at disseminating the life and work of the couple, was supported by Juan Ramón and Zenobia themselves, already in exile, expressing their enthusiasm for the creation of this place, to which the poet even donated part of the endowment of his Nobel Prize won in 1956, as well as furniture, books, documents and personal objects.

But the journey through the life of the creator of Platero does not end yet. After his return from Madrid, the poet settled with his mother and sister in the house in Calle de la Aceña, also in Moguer, where he lived from 1905 to 1912. Marked by financial ruin, this period was particularly productive for Juan Ramón Jiménez, where it is estimated that he wrote as many as 23 books.

Cervantes’ houses, a life transformed into a museum

On International Museum Day, which has been celebrated since 1977 with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of these institutions for cultural exchange, the traces of the most universal writer in the Spanish language could not be missing either. From Miguel de Cervantes’ first steps to his last, the echo of the essence of his life also remains in the corners of the houses he lived in. Cervantes was, like his Don Quixote, a traveller, and as a result of this restless spirit, several museums today evoke the mark that his passing left imprinted on a large part of the Spanish geography.

Born on 29 September 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Cervantes’ Birthplace is today located in the historic centre of the Madrid town, next to the old Antezana Hospital, where his father, Rodrigo de Cervantes, is believed to have worked, and in the same location where the writer’s family is thought to have lived. Inaugurated in 1956 as a museum and library, the building houses several Cervantes editions from different periods and languages for exhibition and recreates the customs and habits of life in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as reconstructing the early years of the young Cervantes.

As an adult, after his trip to Italy, his participation in the battle of Lepanto and his captivity in Algiers, as well as his time in Portugal and Andalusia – where it is said that he stayed as State collector for the Grand Armada of Philip III at the Casa Cervantes in Vélez (Málaga) – the writer travelled to the town of Esquivias in Toledo. He did so on behalf of Doña Juana Gaytán for the publication of the Cancionero of her late husband, Pedro Láinez. There he met and married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios in 1584. The couple, not entirely well-matched, lived for nearly twenty years on the estate of a distant relative of his wife, now the Museo Casa de Cervantes.

A typical 16th century mansion with two floors and a courtyard, this building belonged to a wealthy landowner, the nobleman Don Alonso de Quijada de Salazar, who, according to some of Cervantes’ biographers, inspired the writer to create his emblematic character. Inaugurated in 1994 as a museum, 86 editions in different languages of Don Quixote are displayed in the showcases of this house which, every year, celebrates the Universal Reading of this immortal title with some thirty ambassadors from the five continents.

In the shadow of the Court

After his time in Esquivias, always present in Cervantes’ life, the writer settled in Valladolid between 1604 and 1606, following the Royal Court of Philip III.  His stay in the Castilian town coincided with the publication in 1605 of the first part of the now universal El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha and with the writing of El coloquio de los perros, El licenciado Vidriera and La ilustre fregona, as well as with the beginning of the second part of his great work.

Settled on his arrival in one of the houses – number 9 – built by the architect Juan de las Navas in 1601 in the old Calle del Rastro de los Carneros, today four of these dwellings make up the museum that bears his name. Founded in 1948, although some of the rooms and a library were open to visitors as early as 1916, this house, managed by the Ministry of Culture, consists of six rooms that recreate the lifestyle of the time, and offers literary days every month, in addition to the annual tribute to the writer every 23 April.

In 1606, Cervantes left Valladolid to move, once again close to the Court, to Madrid, where he lived in different dwellings in the Atocha district, in what was known during the 17th century as the Muses’ quarter. The last room where he lived, until his death in April 1616, was located in Calle del León, on the corner of Francos – today, of course, Calle Cervantes. Unfortunately, and despite an attempt by Ferdinand VII to prevent it, in 1833 the owner of the building, Don Luis Franco, decided to demolish it in order to build a new one. In its place, all that remains today is the bust of the writer and an inscription commemorating his stay there until his last days.

It is in this same street, very close to the writer’s plaque, that the house of one of the most important poets and playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age is located today. The enmity between Lope de Vega and Cervantes is well known, of whom the former wrote: “Of poets I do not say: this is a good century. Many are in the making for the coming year; but there is none so bad as Cervantes, nor so foolish as to praise Don Quixote”.

Paradoxically, as the Casa Museo that housed the poet reminds us, this house is located in Cervantes Street, where Lope de Vega lived for the last 25 years of his life and of which even a small garden remains today. Built in 1578, the poet and playwright bought it in 1610 for 9,000 reales, where he wrote some of his most notable texts and where he suffered some of his greatest losses, such as the death of his son Carlos Félix, or of his partners Juana de Guardo and Marta de Nevares. Since 1935, it has been preserved as a historical monument.

The universe of Don Quixote in a museum

But in addition to these spaces that evoke the time, life and work of Miguel de Cervantes, and although there is no better recreation for an author than immersing oneself in his own books, there are other places that bring us closer to the essence of the writer. One of these is the Museo Casa de Dulcinea del Toboso, which maintains part of its original 16th-century structure with its various La Mancha outbuildings such as the mill, the wine cellar, the courtyards and the corrals. It is located in El Toboso (Toledo), the town where the Zarco de Morales family lived, to which Doña Ana belonged, a figure who inspired the character of Dulcinea, and to whom the institution honours.

Another museum in La Mancha, the Museo del Quijote – Biblioteca Cervantina in Ciudad Real, is dedicated to the figure of the ingenious nobleman. This centre combines exhibitions of works of art related to the Cervantes universe with multimedia displays that take us back to the 16th century. The library offers access to a specialised collection on the life and work of Cervantes, with more than 4,000 copies, including 400 different editions of Don Quixote, particularly from the 18th and 19th centuries to the present day.

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