A life spanning two centuries

Take a trip through the thrilling biography of Unamuno and immerse yourself in his innermost memories

Unamuno´s bust by Folía (1907) by Juan Bautista FolíaUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Unamuno was a writer, philosopher, professor, and chancellor of the University of Salamanca, and a quintessential intellectual. His life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries; he lived exactly 36 years in each.

Portrait of Miguel de Unamuno reading (c.1913)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

A tenacious author, through his work he could masterfully narrate the social, cultural, and political events of the period in which he lived, as an active protagonist and direct witness.

Child Miguel de Unamuno (c.1870)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

1. Childhood in Bilbao

Did you know Unamuno was born in Bilbao in 1864? His father died very young, and so he grew up with a very close relationship with his mother and sisters. From then on, he maintained a strong bond with the women who surrounded him throughout his life.

Concha Lizárraga (1880)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

2. The great love of his life

While still a young boy, he met the girl who would in time become his wife, the mother of his children, and a great support to him through the years: Concha Lizárraga.

Miguel de Unamuno (1884)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

3. A student of authentic Madrid

The young Unamuno was a hardworking student. In 1884, after completing his studies in Philosophy at the Central University of Madrid, he was given the Extraordinary Degree Award. Furthermore, after defending his doctoral thesis, he achieved his PhD with a distinction.

Sketch of an oak by Miguel de UnamunoUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

4. A fondness for drawing

He completed numerous sketches, which reveal a fondness for drawing that he had ever since he was a child. He would always carry a notebook in his pocket, which he would use to make sketches or draw anything that piqued his interest.

"There was a kind of loft on the top floor of the house in which I lived in Bilbao, from the age of 1 to 27. That's where we learned the basics of drawing, and painting, with the other Bilbao locals of my time, where we cultivated our art to a greater or lesser extent, either as amateurs or as professionals. What a delight to climb those cherished stairs with a book under our arm, and to walk through the unmistakable corridors!"

My tribute to Don Miguel (1986) by Manuel Gracia GonzálezUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

5. Professor, chancellor, and man of letters

In 1891, he became the youngest ever professor at the University of Salamanca. In 1900, he was appointed chancellor; a position he held until 1914. His legacy was so formidable that he would be re-elected on two more occasions.

Cover page´s Niebla novel (1914) by Miguel de UnamunoUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

6. The world's first "nivola"

Have you heard the word nivola? It is a term to counter the word novel, and was invented by Unamuno himself to refer to his work Mist (Niebla), written in 1914. "This matter of calling it a nivola was just another crafty trick to intrigue the critics," the writer commented sarcastically.

Miguel de Unamuno at Los Arribes del Duero (1902)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

7. An emotional tourist

Going on trips was another of his favorite pastimes. It was on one of these short trips where the essence of nature was instilled in Unamuno. He discovered different ways of life in Spanish towns and villages, which he would later reflect in his writing.

Miguel de Unamuno in Hendaya (1926)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

8. The story of an expat

In 1924, Unamuno was exiled on the island of Fuerteventura for speaking out against the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera. Later, he chose to move to Paris, and then to Hendaye. He wouldn't return to Salamanca until 1930.

Despite the difficult times he was going through, separated from his homeland, Unamuno was able to find pockets of happiness in Fuerteventura. He rode camels, he sunbathed, and he interacted with local islanders. After around a year in Paris, where his political activity took center stage, he reached Hendaye. There he was able to feel closer, both in body and spirit, to his beloved birthland of the Basque Country.

Miguel de Unamuno in Fuerteventura, 1924, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Miguel de Unamuno in Paris, 1924, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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"On the border", Miguel de Unamuno, c. 1928, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Miguel de Unamuno in Salamanca (1930)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

9. Return to Spain

"I told you I would return, not with my freedom, which is worth nothing, but with yours." With these emotive words, Unamuno addressed the crowds who had gathered to welcome him back to Salamanca. That was on February 13, 1930. Primo de Rivera's regime came to an end that same year.

Tribute card to Miguel de Unamuno (c.1931)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

10. The Spanish Republic and Unamuno

Do you want to know who was entrusted to proclaim the Republic in Salamanca on April 14, 1931? The aged professor, Unamuno. At that time, he enjoyed great prestige and status as an intellectual, and he even became a representative in the Spanish parliament.

In 1934, Unamuno suffered a cruel blow, with the loss of his wife and eldest daughter. That was the catalyst for him retreating into his university life. In September that year, on the occasion of his retirement, he was accorded a solemn tribute attended by many famous personalities, including the President of the Republic, Alcalá-Zamora.

Miguel de Unamuno in the University of Salamanca, July 1934, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Miguel de Unamuno´s tribute, 1934, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Madrid Conquered (1939)LIFE Photo Collection

11. The disasters of war

The outbreak of the civil war in 1936 plunged Unamuno into a deep grief. He struggled to recover. His opposition to the established regime was commemorated when he proclaimed at the University of Salamanca: "To win is not to win over."

Unamuno Miguel De 1864-1963LIFE Photo Collection

12. A special grandfather

In those terrible moments, only the company of his grandson Miguelín relieved the writer's pain. That gave him the strength to cope with his house arrest, a consequence of his clash with General Millán-Astray on October 12, 1936.

Miguel de Unamuno´s poem (1936) by Miguel de UnamunoUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

13. A window to emptiness

On the last day of the year, he died suddenly at home. Those last months were sad, but he never lost hope. His precious legacy offers the opportunity to learn about him, but he is owed a commitment to keeping this legacy alive for future generations.

The generous man says, "I give what I have." The selfless man says, "I give what I am worth." The hero says, "I give what I am." "I give myself," says the saint. Together with him, it is recited: "I give the entire universe through myself. You must become the universe, finding it within you. To within!"

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