María Zambrano

Biography of María Zambrano, Spanish philosopher and essayist, The extensive work of this extraordinary woman is between civic commitment and poetic thought.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

Already old, she received the two highest literary awards granted in Spain: the Prince of Asturias Award in 1981, and the Cervantes Award in 1988.

Maria Zambrano
María Zambrano in the 80s, in Spain. Credit: El País. Raul Cancio

Childhood and education of María Zambrano

María Zambrano Alarcón was born in Vélez-Málaga, on April 22, 1904.

Her parents, Blas Zambrano and Araceli Alarcón, were teachers.

Also her paternal grandfather, Diego Zambrano, was a teacher.

Vélez Málaga
Vélez, Málaga city where the writer María Zambrano was born. Credit: Wikipedia. TyK

In 1905, she moved with her family to Madrid.

The following year, her father obtained the chair of Castilian Grammar, in the “Normal School of Teachers“, in Segovia.

Since 1906, throughout their adolescence they lived in Segovia.

Her sister Araceli was born there, on the eve of Maria’s birthday, which she said: “It was the greatest joy of my life.

In 1913, María Zambrano started high school at the Segovia Institute.

She and another girl were the only girls who received an education of that level.

Aquaduct of Segovia
The ancient aqueduct of Segovia. Credit: Wikipedia. Alfonso Felver

Romantic life of María Zambrano

In Segovia, María began a first love, with her cousin Miguel Pizarro; this lasted between 1917 and 1919.

The family intervened and Miguel was sent to Japan, as a Spanish professor at Osaka University.

After a first moment of desolation, María had a new love experience with Gregorio del Campo.

In the exchange of letters between the two, they give details of this youth adventure.

University training of María Zambrano

In 1924, her family moved back to Madrid and María enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University.

Between 1924 and 1926, she attended the classes of García Morente, Julián Besteiro, Manuel Cossío and Xavier Zubiri; She also met José Ortega y Gasset, in an exam court.

Ortega Gasset
José Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher and essayist, around 1924. Credit: Wikipedia

In 1927, she was invited to the gathering of the Revista de Occidente; Despite her youth, with her brilliant intelligence, pondering, and knowledge, she came to play the role of mediator between Ortega and some young writers, such as Antonio Sánchez and José Antonio Maravall.

Beginning of the working life of María Zambrano

Starting in 1928, she began her doctorate, joined the “Federación Universitaria Escolar” (FUE) and began to collaborate in the Madrid newspaper “El Liberal” (Republican-oriented, stopped being published in 1939).

She also participated in the founding of the “Social Education League“.

She taught philosophy classes at the “Instituto Escuela“, a Spanish educational institution founded in Madrid in 1918, as an educational experiment.

The purpose of this experiment was to extend to official secondary education the fundamental pedagogical principles of the Free Institution of Education and of the most advanced European pedagogy of its time.

She had to interrupt classes, because she got sick and was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

In spite of everything, she did not interrupt her collaborations with the FUE and continued with many of her writings.

In 1931, she was appointed assistant professor to Xavier Zubiri, Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Madrid.

She held this position until 1936. In those years she finished her doctoral thesis on “The salvation of the individual, at Spinoza.”

Xavier Zubiri
Xavier Zubiri, Professor of History of Philosophy. Disciple of José Ortega y Gasset. Credit: Criterio Magazine

Her collaboration with José Ortega y Gasset

On March 7, 1932, María’s professional closeness and intense collaboration with José Ortega y Gasset led her to commit what she would soon discover as the worst political mistake of her life: the signing of the “Manifesto and creation of the Spanish Front” .

María Zambrano very soon saw the fascist profile of this Spanish Front and dissolved it, since she had the authority to do so.

She was totally disillusioned with party politics.

Henceforth she channeled her political concern into the field of thought, criticizing rationalism and proposing an alternative and integrating reason, poetic reason.

María Zambrano and the Pedagogical Missions

That same year 1932, in a very different context of life, at the Valle Inclán gathering she met Rafael Dieste, who became one of her greatest friends; With her and with other young people from that group (Arturo Serrano, Luis Cernuda, Sánchez Barbudo and Alfonso Rodríguez) she struck up a great friendship.

She participated in some “Pedagogical Missions” in Cáceres, Huesca and Cuenca.

The Pedagogical Missions were a project of cultural solidarity sponsored by the Government of the Second Spanish Republic.

Summoned by Manuel Bartolomé Cossío, they gathered more than five hundred volunteers: teachers, professors, artists, and young students and intellectuals.

Among them were: the playwright Alejandro Casona, the filmmaker José Val del Omar, the poet Luis Cernuda, the painter Ramón Gaya, the musician Eduardo Martínez, Antonio Sánchez, the academic Carmen Conde and her husband Antonio Oliver.

Bartolomé Cossio
Manuel Bartolomé Cossío, pedagogue, godson and favorite student of Francisco Giner de los Ríos. Photograph from 1931. Credit: Wikipedia

Her collaboration with cultural entities

During that period, between 1932 and 1934, María Zambrano generously collaborated in the four cultural circles that she frequented: the Revista de Occidente, the poetic meeting of stars of 27 gathered in Cuatro Vientos, the youthful Literary Sheet of Azcoaga and the sanctuary of José Bergamín, Cruz y Raya, in whose gatherings she met Miguel Hernández.

Many of the members of these circles took the custom of going to have tea at María Zambrano’s house, in the Plaza del Conde de Barajas.

The young writer had already earned an exceptional position among the Spanish poetic intelligentsia.

It was 1935, and at the beginning of the year, María began her work as a philosophy teacher at the “Residencia de Señoritas” and at the “Instituto Cervantes”, where the poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939) held the chair of French.

In Segovia, Machado had been a fellow member and friend of Blas Zambrano, María’s father.

Antonio Machado
Antonio Machado, representative Spanish poet of the Generation of 98. Credit: Wikipedia. History of Argentine Literature

María Zambrano during the Spanish Civil War

On July 30, 1936, María Zambrano joined the founding manifesto of the “Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals for the Defense of Culture.”

She collaborated in the writing of this manifesto against fascism represented by the rebel Army.

On September 14, 1936, she married the historian, diplomat, and occasional poet Alfonso Rodríguez Aldave, recently appointed secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Chile.

In October, on the trip to Chile, they stopped in Havana, where María gave a conference on Ortega y Gasset.

Eight months later, in the middle of the Spanish civil war, they returned to Spain, on June 19, 1937, the same day that Bilbao fell and the Spanish intellectual diaspora began; When asked why they returned when the war was lost for the Republic, she and her husband answered: “That’s why.

María Zambrano in the 1930s
María Zambrano in the 1930s. Credit: María Zambrano Foundation

Alfonso Rodríguez joined the republican army and she collaborated on the editorial board of “Hora de España” (a monthly cultural magazine, published in Valencia and founded by intellectuals loyal to the Second Republic).

She participated in the “II International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture”, held from July 4 to 17, 1937 in Valencia.

She was appointed Counselor for Propaganda and National Counselor for Evacuated Children.

She also participated in the reopening and management of the House of Culture of Valencia.

At the beginning of 1938, she moved to Barcelona with her parents and her sister. That year, on October 29, her father died at the age of 64.

María Zambrano at the end of the Civil War

On January 28, 1939, 5 days after the fall of Barcelona, ​​María crossed the French border in the company of her mother, her sister Araceli, her husband and other relatives.

In France, she was reunited with her husband and after a brief stay in Paris, they left for Mexico invited by the House of Spain.

Upon disembarking in Havana to spend a few days there, she was invited as a professor at the University and at the Institute of Higher Studies and Scientific Research.

La Habana
The Old Square of Havana was designed as a public space in 1559. Credit: Wikipedia. Brian snelson

From Cuba they went to Mexico, where she was appointed professor at the Universidad Michoacán.

In Mexico, she published two books: “Philosophy and Poetry” and “Thought and Poetry in Spanish Life.”

However, the marriage was not used in Michoacán and they decided to move to Puerto Rico.

Between 1940 and 1945, she worked intensely, participating in seminars and conference cycles, or giving lessons and courses in various Cuban and Puerto Rican institutions.

While her life alternated between Cuba and Puerto Rico, she continued to publish articles and some books such as “The Confession: Literary Genre and Method“, “The Agony of Europe” or “The Living Thought of Seneca“.

World War II prevented her from reuniting in Paris with her sick mother and her sister Araceli, who had become a widow and was on the threshold of madness.

As soon as the allied troops liberated the French capital, Maria did everything possible to come to her mother’s aid, but the slow procedures of obtaining a visa meant that when she arrived in Paris, her mother was already buried.

Her sister Araceli was in an absolutely regrettable situation. Maria decided to take care of her and never be separated from her again.

In 1947, the Zambrano sisters settled in an apartment on Rue de L’Université, a home that Maria’s husband soon joined. The coexistence between the three was somewhat unsustainable.

In 1948, alone and united until the end, María and Araceli Zambrano moved to Havana, from there they went to Mexico and again to Havana.

With all these transfers, their condition of wandering beings began to be almost obsessive; and since their economic situation was deplorable, they decided to organize their return to Europe.

Spain House
The Spain House in Mexico. Cultural center. Credit: Latin American Art

In 1949, the Zambrano sisters were able to settle in Rome.

But, only until June 1950, because the Italian government refused to extend their residence permits.

They went to Paris, where Maria was reunited with her husband for a short time; since Alfonso and her brother Francisco, with whom she had lived for the last three years, since 1947, left for Mexico.

The sisters remained in Paris until March 1953, when they again moved to Havana.

But the initial euphoria of the Caribbean reunion lasted only 3 months, due to the chaotic Cuban political situation, longing for Araceli and Maria’s love affair with the Italian doctor Gustavo Pittaluga, almost 30 years older than her.

María Zambrano settled for a time in Rome

In June 1953 a ship returned them to Rome.

This time, the stay in Rome was longer.

María was able to enjoy a fruitful friendship with Italian intellectuals, and regain her relationship with old friends such as Diego de Mesa (a student of hers at the Instituto Escuela), Carmen Lobo, Nieves de Madariaga (daughter of Salvador de Madariaga), Tomás Segovia (a Valencian poet). ), the poet Jorge Guillén, or the Mexican novelist and diplomat Sergio Pitol.

Her economy and health, both always fragile, were comforted by the generosity of the English painter Timothy Osborne, who was her financial protector until the end of her life.

Tireless, María Zambrano continued to write articles, essays and books.

Her thinking spans a wide spectrum from history, painting, and poetry. These two masterpieces are from these years: “Spain, dream and truth” and “La España de Galdós”.

In September 1957, she received the sentence of a Mexican court in which she was notified of her divorce with Alfonso Rodríguez Aldave.

During that Roman autumn of 1957, she met the Venezuelan poet Reyna Rivas and her husband Amando Barrios.

They became her great friends and protectors, until the last moment.

María’s house became famous for the gatherings, songs and dances; and by the overflowing population of cats that surrounded her sister Araceli.

In the summer and fall of 1958, she stayed for long periods in Florence, where she made a great and intimate friendship with the famous Murcian painter Ramón Gaya.

The Zambrano sisters were expelled from Rome

In September 1963, she had the bitter experience of starting a wandering life again, upon receiving the expulsion order from Rome, motivated by a complaint from a neighbor regarding her sister Araceli’s cats.

Her friend, the writer Elena Croce, made the Ministers of Justice and the Interior intervene, but they only managed to postpone the process.

On September 14, 1964, after a new “sanitary-civic” inspection, the Zambranos and thirteen cats left Rome on their way to France with a warning to the Gallic police that “they are dangerous people.”

Landscap Jura
Landscape of the Jura region in France. Credit: Pixabay. Manuel Sadaune

From that year 1964 until 1977, Maria and her sister lived in France, in the Jura region, in an old little house in a forest, called “La Pièce“.

The solitude of the house was from time to time enlivened by the visits of Spanish and Italian friends and cousins.

In it she gave birth to magnificent works such as: “The tomb of Antigone“, “The man and the divine” or “Glades of the forest”.

On February 20, 1972, Araceli Zambrano passed away.

The death of her sister made her abandon her house in the forest for two years.

There were stays in Rome and tourist trips through Greece; all with the company and generosity of her patrons Timothy Osborne and wife.

In 1974, she returned to “La Pièce”, assisted and accompanied by her cousins ​​Mariano and Rafael Tomero Alarcón.

However, the deterioration of her physical health began to be progressive.

Fernay Voltaire
General view of Fernay-Voltaire almost on the border between France and Switzerland. Credit: Wikipedia

Last years and return to Spain

In 1978, she moved to Ferney-Voltaire, where she remained until 1981, whens he moved to Geneva.

In this Swiss city, the Asturian colony named her “Adoptive Daughter of the Principality of Asturias”.

It was the first in a long list of recognitions that until then had been absent.

Already old, she had a relapse in her health; so serious that the doctors declared her evicted.

However, she recovered enough to decide to return to Spain and settle in Madrid on November 20, 1984.

With 80 years, of which she spent more than half her life having to go from one place to another, she needed a quiet peace in her homeland.

In this last stage, her intellectual activity was, however, tireless.

Theater Campoamor
The Campoamor Theater inaugurated in 1892, the scene of the Prince of Asturias Awards ceremony. Credit: web saberasturias

Acknowledgments to the writer María Zambrano

In 1981 she had been rewarded with the “Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities“, in its first edition.

In turn, the city council of Vélez-Málaga, her hometown, named her “Favorite Daughter”.

The following year, on December 19, 1982, the Governing Board of the University of Malaga agreed to her appointment as Doctor Honoris Causa.

She died in Madrid, on February 6, 1991; She was buried between an orange tree and a lemon tree, in the Vélez-Málaga cemetery, where later the mortal remains of her mother and sister were also transferred.

In February 1966, the philosopher José Luis López Aranguren had published an article in the Revista de Occidente, entitled: “The dreams of María Zambrano.”

This publication was followed by other similar works, by other writers who began to claim the work and the giant figure of María Zambrano.

Official recognitions also continued:

  • Favorite Daughter of Andalusia” in 1985; and in 1987, the foundation that bears her name was established in Vélez-Málaga.
  • Finally, in 1988 she was awarded the “Cervantes Prize”. She continued to receive posthumous recognition.
  • Favorite Daughter” of the Province of Malaga in 2002.
  • On November 27, 2006, the Ministry of Public Works baptized the central railway station of Malaga with her name.
  • In 2008, the maritime rescue tug vessel, “María Zambrano” (BS-22), was launched.
  • The Central Library of what was her Alma Mater, the Complutense University of Madrid, also bears her name.
  • On April 28, 2017, the Plenary of the Segovia City Council unanimously approved the granting of the title of “Adoptive and Favorite Daughter of Segovia”.
Train Station
“María Zambrano” train station in Malaga. Credit: Ricardo Ricote Rodríguez

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