Spanish version

Royal National Academy of Medicine

The Royal National Academy of Medicine is located at calle Arrieta, 10 quite near to the Royal Palace and Incarnation Monastery.

The building was built by architect Luis Maria Cabello Lapiedra between 1911 and 1914.

XVIIIth Century

From a literary gathering to Academy

Royal National Academy of Medicine-logoIn 1733 a group of doctors, surgeons and pharmacists got together at Jose Hortega´s pharmacy. They just talked about any topic although quite soon their shared interests made them concentrate on medical matters. Now they had to organize these meetings.

One of the participants was appointed as President in order to look after the objectives and keep order during the meetings. It was also the President’s task to decide which topics were going to be discussed and who was going to study them in order to make a dissertation.
The Secretary was in charge of the documents and filing. The “Attorney” had to control the meetings.

The first rules of the medical club were established. Many people wanted to take part at these meetings. One of the main objectives of the medical club was to renew medical practice. On Mondays and Fridays they talked about medical problems and on Wednesdays about Anatomy. The medical club pursues a scientific activity in order to spread anatomic knowledge, which was not considered at university level in those days.

In 1734 the club changes its name to Madrilian Medical Academy. So it becomes an official institution under royal authority, at that moment King Felipe V, and its President had to be the king’s first doctor.


The meetings still took place at Jose Hortega’s pharmacy. The speeches had to be givenbuilding at Arrieta 10 to the ‘Attorney’ who had to take care that they were written in a proper manner. The literary aspect was very important.

At the beginning of each term it was decided which topics had to be studied. All of them were common medical problems or of social importance. Frequently they reflected the personal experience of the academician. Among the topics were ‘fever, pain in the side, tuberculosis, melancholy and catalepsy. They also spoke about medical treatments including ‘bloodletting or thermal and medical baths’. Surgeons talked about gangrene and ulcers.

Since 1735 the Academy also celebrates annual public meetings visited by ‘distinguished guests’.

In 1739 the Academy published the 'Pharmacopoeia Matritensis', a codification of pharmacological measures, which was compulsory when prescribing drugs.

In 1753 king Fernando VII appointed Andres Piquer y Arrufat as perpetual Vice-president to the Academy. This appointment should have been made by the Academy itself. After this appointment, many members left the Academy in order to show their disapproval. The literary sessions were also interrupted.

Botanic Garden

Assembly HallFernando VII sent Jose Hortega to a scientific mission during which he saw different botanic gardens. The first pharmacist to King Felipe V had bequeathed the Royal Garden to the king. In 1755 it became the Royal Botanic Garden. Until the end of the XVIIIth century the Academy was in charge of it.
During the time of King Carlos III, two Catalan pharmacists made important discoveries related to plants and herbs.

Politics and Academy

As many academicians were related to the Royal House, the problems lived during the reigns of Carlos IV and Fernando VII and the French Invasion also affected this institution. The political ideas of some members caused their imprisonment or exile.
In 1791 new articles of the Academy were published, although many of its objectives were not accomplished. The Academy wanted to have a decisive role in medical studies, experimental physics, chemistry and botany. It also spread its activity throughout the country. The Academy provided guidance services to medical and charitable centers, that had activities related to health, like slaughterhouses or cemeteries. It was also involved in social and penal legislation, antecedent to Legal Medicine.

Although he Academy had royal support, this did not include economic contributions. It stillStained-glass ceiling Assembly Hall had no official headquarter. After Hortega´s death, the Academy held their meetings at the Vice-presidents’ homes. This was a problem, as they had no space where to keep their records, post, books, etc. In 1793 they finally got a room which had belonged to the Royal Academy of Spanish Language. Now they had to furnish the headquarter. Little by little the academicians themselves gave periodical contributions to cover the costs even for wood for the fireplace.
Some years later the building was demolished and, again, the Academy had no headquarter.

XIXth and XXth Century

In 1812 the Academy still had no economic support.
During the first years of the XIXth century the Academy continued checking the pharmacopoeia and included a new topic among its interest, meteorology. It was also the first time the Academy announced a series of awards to support scientific investigations.

During the French Invasion and the reign of King Fernando VII afterwards, the Academy lived times of decadence. It was located at Santo Tomas Convent. A series of French professional were included among the Academy´s members without following established rules. King Jose Bonaparte wanted to support the Academy´s work, but war prevented any advance. During the French Invasion the activities diminished, specially because many academians had left the country.

Reign of King Fernando VII

Amalio Jimeno painted by SorollaBetween 1814 and 1816 there was no activity at the Academy. With King Fernando VII, the Academy started again in 1816 under the protection of don Carlos, the king´s brother. But these years were not easy. Those who had sworn allegiance to the Constitution would be considered as enemies once King Fernando VII turned to Absolutism. In 1824 the King ordered the closing of the Academy.

4 years later, in 1828, academic activity was allowed again but under strong restrictions. The rules of 1831 joined all existing medical Academies. So, the Madrilian Academy was demoted to district Academy.

Thanks to the incorporation of prestigious professionals the Academy´s activities became more important. Between 1830 and 1861 it did not have any headquarter and was just located at different sites. There was no economic support, either.

In 1849 the Academy was asked for help regarding new medical institutions and about medical and epidemiological topics, mainly about cholera and smallpox.

Reign of Queen Isabel II

The Academy was at this time just an institution providing information and advice to Board meeting hallgovernmental authorities. In 1861 new rules, signed by Queen Isabel II, were published. Although still quite restrictive, they allowed the Academy to become a nationwide center of studies and a scientific body. A different political age had begun and Spain was looking to Europe. The new rules also foresaw that the speeches held at the Academy had to be published yearly, Anales de la Real Academia de Medicina. This magazine is still published nowadays. At the literary meetings mainly professional topics were discussed, with an important participation of surgeons. The Academy was worried about diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, tuberculosis and cholera, which had a wide social impact.

After a visit of King Alfonso XII in 1904, the Academy finally got its own headquarter at calle Arrieta. Before its members had held their meetings at different sites in Madrid.

Silver Age and Civil War

clock in the libraryOnce the Academy was at the new building, they undertook several changes improving the facilities. One of the main rooms was the library. Due to the many moves and several fires, many important documents were lost. Now a definite place for them had been arranged. Many academicians gave their private libraries to the Academy.

The years until 1936 are considered as the 'Silver Age' of the Academy. Important doctors took part in academic life, like Marañon and Ramon y Cajal. This generation changed medical rules, took part in teaching activities and also showed great social concern.

Unfortunately the Civil War made many academicians leave the country and there were no activities. The government of the Republic ordered the closure of all academies, academicians lost their titles and the building at calle Arrieta depended then from a ministry. On the other hand, the government in Burgos set up the Spanish Institute including all academies. They still had their own indentities but submitted to the Institute. The Academy of Medicine had its headquarter in San Sebastian, although the dispersion of its members and the war itself made any activity impossible.

Postwar Period

After the war a very precarious period started. The Academy suffered a loss of prestige aslibrary it lost its independence. In 1939 it returned to its headquarter, but new restrictive rules were established. Several academicians were expelled.
In 1954 finally new rules restored the democratic system.

The Academy in the XXIrst Century

Currently the Academy continues with its institutional activities. They organize scientific sessions and publish 'Jewels of the Library', medical history topics. Since 1968 the Academy also includes among its member important figures of medicine from all over the country and even from abroad.

There are 50 numerary academicians. They gain admittance due to some very appreciated work, after winning an award or being introduced by another member. Every member has his/her medical speciality. Although their work is not limited to it. Many discussion boards are held. The Ministry of Justice frequently asks the Academy for reports for the Court.
The Academy wants to get better known by the general public. Academic activities have increased. On Tuesdays they celebrate their ordinary sessions with public lectures.

Building and Halls

libraryBefore entering the Assembly Hall we find the Blue and Yellow Halls. The Blue Hall is being refurnished, although there are already some interesting items, like a glass-cabinet with received medals and awards and a clock.

In the Yellow Hall there is a collection of portraits of some academicians. One of them of Amalio Jimeno painted by Sorolla.

The Assembly Hall, in modernist style, has a numbered seat for every academician with his/her name on a plaque. In the upper part of the Hall there are medallions with pictures of famous doctors. The ceiling has a beautiful stained-glass window.

In the upper floor, there is the meeting room where the Academy celebrates its official entrance hallboard and the library. The library has over 100.000 volumes and over 1.000 periodical publications. There are many books from the XVIth to XVIIIth century. Currently there is a group of lexicographers preparing a dictionary of medical terms. In the basement is another meeting room, where many medical objects have been collected, which will be part of a medical museum in the future.

One thing remains quite clear throughout the Academy history: during nearly 300 years the Academy has always pursued scientific knowledge and its spreading. Its task has been frequently limited because of little resources and depending almost entirely upon the member´s good will. Also the political situation since Fernando VII until the Transition, which affected development in a negative way, has also been an obstacle for the natural evolution of the Academy.

Obviously the situation is quite different nowadays and the Academy faces a future full of challenges and possibilities.

meeting hall

@Copyright 2008, 2009 Mª Dolores Diehl Busch. All rights reserved.
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