Festival-Palabra2016 marks the fourth centenary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, known as the “father of the modern novel”. To commemorate this event, the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport has presented an official program of activities that will take place throughout the year, both nationally and internationally. One of the most interesting ones is the exhibition ‘Miguel de Cervantes: from life to myth’, held by Spanish Public Agency for Cultural Action and National Library of Spain in Madrid.But do you really know Cervantes? Our students already do. Keep reading and you’ll find it out!

  • Cervantes was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, a little town near Madrid (he was 17 years Shakespeare”s senior).
  • He was the fourth of the seven children born to Doña Leonor de Cortinas and Don Rodrigo de Cervantes, an itinerant surgeon who struggled to maintain his practice and his family by traveling throughout Spain.
  • Cervantes lived most of his life in poverty, wandering from place to place with the hope of escaping from debt. At age 22, he left Spain for Rome to serve as a valet to Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva, presumably fleeing a Spanish arrest warrant.
  • In 1571 he enlisted as a solider in the Spanish Navy, where he fought in the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Empire. He was wounded in the chest and lost the use of his left hand. This injury garnered him the nickname “el manco de Lepanto” (the one-handed man from Lepanto).


”Battle of Lepanto”. Author: Andrea Michieli Source: Ducal Palace (Venice)

  • In 1575 Cervantes ended up in Algiers, home of†Barbary pirates and a large slave market. It would take five years and four failed escape attempts to regain his freedom (his father had to sell all his possessions for the ransom).
  • Cervantes came back from Algiers deeply in debt. To earn money, he decided to reenlist in the army. He went to Portugal and took part in the battle of “Las Azores” in 1582. A year later,†a child named Isabel de Saavedra was born to Cervantes and a lady of Lisbon’s aristocracy.
  • At age 37 he married Doña Catalina de Palacios Salazar, a woman almost twenty years younger. The marriage obliged Cervantes to look for a job, therefore in 1588 he secured a position in Andalusia, first as a purveyor for the Invencible Armada and later as a tax collector.
  • He published his first novel (‘La Galatea’) without much success in 1585.
  • In 1592 Cervantes was accused of selling wheat without authorization and spent a few days under arrest in Castro del Río (Córdoba). Some scholars believe that is was here where the idea for ”Don Quixote” came to light; others maintain it happened later, when he was again in jail in Seville.



Image by Sebastian Danon (FreeImages.com)

  • At age 57 Cervantes published the first volume of ‘Don Quixote’ (1605) to be followed by volume two 10 years later. †The book soon sold out and reprints were published at once, some of them illegally.
  • ‘Don Quixote’ was an immediate hit, but it didn’t make Cervantes a rich man: the rights were sold for an unknown sum to his publisher.li>During the last nine years of his life, Cervantes solidified his reputation as a writer: ‘Novelas ejemplares’, ‘Viaje al Parnaso’, ‘Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses’ and the second part of ‘Don Quixote’. At the same time, Cervantes continued working on ‘Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda’, which he completed three days before his death.
  • Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, in Madrid but the event has always been commemorated on the 23rd (the day when he was buried), coinciding with the death†of British literary Willam Shakespeare.’Don Quixote’ sees a minor nobleman who imagines himself a knight errant, mistake windmills for hulking giants and charge them on his pathetic horse, Rocinante. It’s the origin of the English idiom “tilting at windmills” (meaning to pursue an unrealistic, impractical or impossible goal or to battle imaginary enemies).cervantes 2Would you like to have a conversation in Spanish about Cervantes? Done! You just need to book one of our conversation classes and you could talk during 30 minutes with one of our native teachers. Do you prefer to take a free trial lesson? No problem! Just click here.