The Route of Cervantes (1/2) 1547-1580

Go on this tour to find out about Miguel de Cervantes, one of Spain’s—and the world’s—most celebrated writers.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Carlos Alvar & Elisa Borsari, now available on Google Arts & Culture

DON QUIXOTE ROUTE (2004-04-17) by Paco TorrenteAgencia EFE

He was also a soldier in the Spanish army, and fought against the Ottoman Empire at sea in the Mediterranean and in North Africa. Many statues and landmarks in Spain and Italy reflect his importance to the people of Spain.

Plaza de Cervantes

In 1532, the man who would be Miguel de Cervantes’ grandfather, lawyer Juan de Cervantes, settled his family in Alcalá de Henares, 35 kilometers northeast of Madrid on the Henares River. The Plaza de Cervantes in the center of the city was built in the Middle Ages. 

Originally it was known as the Plaza del Mercado (Market Square), and it was the location of the town’s markets. The plaza was renamed Plaza de Cervantes in the 19th century. Today, the tree-lined plaza features gardens, a bandstand, and a statue honoring the late writer.

Statue of Cervantes

Designed by the Italian sculptor Carlo Nicoli in 1879, this statue in the Plaza de Cervantes depicts Miguel de Cervantes as writer and soldier. Bas-relief sculptures around the base show scenes from one of Cervantes’ most famous works, Don Quixote.

Santa María la Mayor

The church of Santa María la Mayor was largely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but this tower survived. The baptismal font used for Cervantes baptism was restored after the war. It can be seen in the nearby Oidor Chapel, which also survived the bombs.

Music kiosk

The plaza’s bandstand, or music kiosk, was designed by architect Martin Pastells and built in 1898. It stands in the center of a broad open space where crowds gather to listen and dance to live music.

Comedy Corral de Alcala

Also known as the Corral de Shoemakers and Teatro Cervantes, this building is one of the oldest remaining comedy theaters in Spain. Built in 1601 by Francisco Sanchez, it has served as a comedy theater, coliseum, romantic theater, and movie theater.

The birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes

For many years, the date and location of Cervantes’ birth were a mystery. When his birth certificate was found in the 18th century, it was discovered that he was baptized on October 9, 1547 at the parish of Santa Maria la Mayor in Alcala de Henares. 

His exact birthday is assumed to be September 29th, the feast day of San Miguel. This house, located on Mayor Street, is where Cervantes was born and lived for some of his childhood.

Upper and lower levels

The lower level of the house included the central courtyard, a ladies’ parlor, the kitchen and dining room, and an office for Cervantes’ father, who was a surgeon. The second floor housed the family’s private sitting rooms and bedrooms.

Well

The courtyard features a well, which would have been the household’s source of water. You may have also noticed a drain at the center of the courtyard.

Flags

Both Spain’s national flag (which features the national coat of arms) and the crimson flag of the Community of Madrid (which features 7 white stars to represent the 7 administrative areas of the province of Madrid) stand just outside the doorway to the dining room.

Estudio de la Villa, Madrid

Not much is known about Miguel de Cervantes’ childhood. We do know that by 1567 he was studying at the Estudio de la Villa, a grammar school in Madrid. One of his teachers was Juan Lopez de Hoyos, a humanist and writer. 

In 1569, Lopez de Hoyos was charged with organizing the funeral rites of Queen Elizabeth of Valois, wife of King Philip II of Spain. He commissioned Cervantes to write four poems for a collection of works honoring her. These were the first of Cervantes’ writings to be published.

Commemorative plaque

This plaque by the school’s door reads: “The teacher Juan Lopez de Hoyos was here, who in the 16th century managed the public study of humanities at the Estudio de la Villa of Madrid and taught his student Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.”

San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

In 1569, Cervantes traveled to Rome as a manservant in the entourage of Cardinal Monsignor Acquaviva. He may have been fleeing an arrest warrant for his part in a duel in Madrid. 

Apparently, life in the cardinal’s household didn’t appeal to Miguel. After only a few months in Rome, he enlisted in the Spanish army.

Basilica di San Giovanni, Laterano

Built in 324 AD, the Archbasilica di San Giovanni, Laterano, is the cathedral of the Roman diocese, where the episcopal seat of the Pope is located. The basilica has been renovated several times over the years.

The basilica’s facade

Over 20 architects competed for the job of designing the façade of the basilica, but Pope Clement XII chose Italian architect Alessandro Galilei for the job. The immense Baroque façade, made of marble, granite, and cement, was completed in 1735.

The statues

Fifteen statues, each 7 meters in height, stand atop the basilica’s façade. The statues depict Christ the Savior, the 12 Apostles, St. John the Baptist, and John the Evangelist.

The Battle of Lepanto

On October 7, 1571, a fleet of ships representing a coalition of Catholic European states defeated the Turkish Ottomans in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece. 

The Battle of Lepanto, as it became known, did not end the Ottoman Empire, but it certainly had a huge impact on the then 23-year old Miguel de Cervantes. Fighting as a common soldier on a ship called the Marquesa, Cervantes received gunshot wounds to the chest and left hand. 

Statue of Cervantes

Cervantes’ is commemorated with a statue that stands in a park at the entrance to Lepanto’s port. The statue, which depicts the writer proudly holding up a feather pen, was sculpted by Mallorcan artist Jaume Mir.

Port fortifications

Stone fortifications extend into the water like arms nearly enclosing the harbor of what Italians called Lepanto, and what native Greeks call Ναύπακτος (Nafpaktos). At the time of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the town was under the rule of the Ottomans.

Convalescence in Messina

After the Battle of Lepanto, Cervantes and other wounded Holy League soldiers were sent to a hospital in Messina, Sicily to recover. At the time, Sicily was ruled by Spain, and the island had become rich on wheat and silk exports. 

Messina, a melting pot of Latin, Greek and Arab peoples must have been an interesting and exciting place to be. But Cervantes wasn’t there for long. He continued to serve as soldier in Philip II’s army for several more years and was stationed mainly in Naples, Italy.

Monument of Don Juan of Austria

This monument celebrates Don Juan of Austria, who led the Holy League to defeat the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The statue depicts Don Juan with one foot on the defeated Turkish commander, Alí Pasha.

Valencia, Spain

In 1575, Cervantes was on a ship bound for Spain when, along with his brother Rodrigo, he was captured by Turkish pirates. He remained in brutal captivity in Algiers in northern Africa for 5 long years. 

Finally, his parents and the order of Trinitarian monks rescued him by paying a ransom of 500 gold coins. Cervantes made his way first to Denia and then to Valencia, Spain, where he spent few weeks recovering from his ordeal.

Statue of Cervantes, Valencia

In the gardens north of Valencia’s Quart Towers, this statue shows Cervantes standing on a pile of books and holding aloft a bust of his most famous character, Don Quixote. An inscription on the base of the statue reads simply, “To Cervantes.”

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