Walk Description

For centuries, the heart of Madrid's literary and intellectual life has centered in the Huertas neighborhood, to the east of the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. A vibrant quarter that was once home to such seminal figures of the Spanish Golden Century as Cervantes, Quevedo, Góngora, Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, this district is still the heart of theatre, art, and the cultural life of the city. During this three-hour walk we will look deeply into daily life of 17th century Madrid as we stroll the quiet, pedestrian-only streets of this hidden but most magnetic area of the city. The great thinkers and artists of that century will bookend and shape what will become a thematic orientation to Madrid's place in European intellectual history.

Our seminar starts with a visit to the church of St. Sebastian, the parish church where the great writer Lope de Vega was buried. The church is also home to a 400-year-old confraternity of actors, and thus an anchor in the theatrical traditions of Madrid. The guided visit to the nearby residence of de Vega offers an extraordinary opportunity to immerse ourselves in the period, while a discussion of the writer's exceptionally adventurous life and herculean literary work articulates our understanding of intellectual life in the 17th century. Perhaps the most prolific writer that has ever lived, Lope de Vega was born in Madrid in 1562 and died here in 1635. His pastoral novel Arcadia presents an idyllic existence which was far removed from his experience as a soldier in the Invincible Armada and a troubled lover in cloak-and-dagger baroque-era Spain. The figure of de Vega allows us to look at the role of cloaks and capes in the history of Madrid, as well as its associations with the literary world.

Passing by the site where the first edition of Don Quijote was printed will allow us to continue our literary and intellectual them will also giving us occasion to discuss the towering figure of Cervantes, who lived in the area. If there's time, we may enter the church of the Trinitarian convent where he was buried in 1616. But, in general, our focus will be on the continuous life of the neighborhood and its role in art and culture through the centuries, and how this has defined Madrid as a city. We may stop at some of the neighborhood's core cultural institutions such as the Royal History Academy and the Ateneo, a prestigious centre of intellectual exchange, conferences and concerts. To this day, writers, actors and film directors remain in the area as residents or frequent visitors, and it is easy to spot them dropping by the numerous taverns and trendy boutique shops.

On this walk we will also look at how 20th-century Modernists left their imprint in this quarter with the construction of Cine Doré, a must for cinema lovers and oft featured in Almodovar’s films. As homage to the history of film making in Spain, we'll pass, too, the site of the first cinema projection.

In the end, we'll emerge with a vivid portrait of the literary lions who defined Madrid and the intellectual life of this city over the past 300 years. We'll also get a chance to explore one of Madrid's more bohemian quarters as a way of immersing ourselves in the contemporary city.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Ateneo, House of Lope Vega, Church of St. Sebastian, Cine Dore
  • Andrea Van Houtven

    Andrea Van Houtven received her Ph.D. in art history at the University of Maryland. Her dissertation was on the relationship between art and humanism at the Spanish court in the early 17th century, which inevitably led her to Madrid. She has lived in Madrid for 12 years where she has been teaching art history and art-related courses at various universities and private centers. She also participates in special events at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

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    Lourdes Fernandez Bencosme

    Originally from the Dominican Republic, Lourdes Fernández Bencosme has made Madrid her home for the last nineteen years. She is very passionate about the city and Spain in general. She holds a BA in History from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo after which she moved to Chicago to pursue her graduate work. She first earned a MA degree in Hispanic Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and later transferred to the University of Chicago for her PhD studies. She has taught courses at the University of Illinois, The University of Chicago, Colgate University, Universidad Autónoma de México, Syracuse University Madrid, Suffolk University Boston and is currently part of the faculty at Suffolk University Madrid Campus where she teaches a course entitled Madrid Cosmopolitan City among others. Her main interests are visual culture, popular music, urban life and their literary representations in Hispanic literature. Lourdes lives with her husband, her two daughters and two cats in the historic center of Madrid.

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    Clara Nchama

    Originally from Equatorial Guinea, Clara moved to Spain when she was 2 years old. She holds degrees in geography and history and a Master’s in art history from Sorbonne University in Paris. With more than fifteen years experience in museum education and public programs, Clara has worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (Italy), the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, and a number of institutions within the cultural department of the Ministry of Culture in Spain. She also has designed art and cultural tours for groups for more than 10 years. At present Clara works as a Public Programmes and Communication Coordinator at the Museo del Traje (Costume Museum) of Madrid, organising events, lectures, group visits and educational programmes. An avid traveller, she has lived in Seville, Bilbao, New York City, Washington, D.C., Venice, Florence, London and Paris.

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    Hector Santiago

    Héctor was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He obtained a B.A. in Architecture and Humanities and an M.S. in Historic Preservation from Columbia University, New York City, and in 1996 he studied at Rome’s International Centre for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. He returned to Puerto Rico to become Executive Director of Heritage Programs at the Institute of Culture, and then worked independently on research projects for historical and archaeological sites in the Caribbean. In 2003 he moved to Madrid, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis in Colonial Latin American History. Héctor has taught undergraduate courses in the History and Theory of Historic Preservation, Spanish and Latin American History, and Spanish Culture and Civilization at universities in Puerto Rico and Spain. He has a particular passion for Spanish cities and fortifications of the Middle and Early Modern ages. Héctor speaks Spanish and English fluently, and has an intermediate level of Italian.