Exhibit Brochure

Last Wednesday I went to an exhibit at El Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid called “La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de Madrid en La Segunda República.”  The “facultad” is the building at the Universidad de Complutense where the Marquette en Madrid program is based, and “La Segunda República” was the Spanish government formed in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War.  It was a liberal government for its time, one that allowed women to vote, attend college and hold their own jobs.  

The University’s story actually started before the Second Republic.  King Alfonso XII decided that Spain needed a modern University with a large campus, similar to those in the United States.  When Alfonso abdicated the throne, the Republic continued the University’s construction.  The architects looked to Berkeley and Harvard’s campuses, and also to Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs,  for inspiration.  The campus was incredibly modern for its time, and so was the educational system.  International students were attracted to the University, and a study abroad program was created.  A group of women from Smith college were the first American students at la Universidad de Complutense.  Complutense students could study abroad as well.  At the exhibit we met a woman who attended the university during the 1930s, and had gone on an “Ancient Civilizations” class cruise through the Mediterranean!  

The exhibit ended on a somber note.  The campus became a battleground during the Spanish Civil War.  The Filosofía y Letras building was used as a fort by the International Brigades that volunteered to help the Republicans (those who supported the Second Republic) as they fought off the Nationalists (Francisco Franco’s supporters).   The building was destroyed, along with hundreds of books that were used to barricade the windows.  We know how the story ends:  Franco won the war and instated a dictatorship that would last until the 1970s.  Though the Facultad was rebuilt, many of the aspects that made the university so modern and unique disappeared along with the Second Republic.  

I was surprised to find that the building that I have been studying in for over a month played such a major role in Spanish history.  Today the walls are covered in graffiti and students buy Heineken in the cafeteria between classes, but I can imagine it before the war, with brand new desks and stained glass windows, and I feel as if I’m carrying on a tradition that started long before I was born.