Travels, people and institutions

Texts by Dr. Antonio Moreno González

After spending almost a month visiting Palestine, where he lent his support to the creation of Jewish settlements, encouraging them to keep up their agricultural advances and opening the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Einstein travelled on to Barcelona, where he disembarked on 23 February 1923. On 1 March he left for Madrid, where he stayed ten days. On 12 March he travelled to Zaragoza, from where he made his way to the French border on the 15th, thus concluding his visit to Spain. He left from Bilbao, where he had been invited by the Basque Board of Culture to deliver some lectures, but in the end he did not stay, possibly fatigued after such a lengthy international lecture tour. He also had to turn down an invitation by the Ateneo Científico (Science Society) of Valencia.

Einstein, who was accompanied by his wife, had a similar programme in the three cities: he gave a series of lectures - four in Madrid and Barcelona and two in Zaragoza; he visited some of the most important landmarks and whenever possible visited some outlying areas: for example the party visited Toledo, which Einstein remembered as being "like a fairytale"; he was charmed by the streets, the river, the cathedral and the synagogues. He also found time to visit the Sierra Madrileña and the Escorial.

The visits to Barcelona and Madrid were organised by Lana Serrate, Rey Pastor, Terradas, Cabrera and Cajal acting on behalf of the Institute of Catalan Studies and the Council for the Broadening of Scientific Studies and Research. The lectures in Zaragoza were organised by Jerónimo Vecino and José Rius, representing the University of Zaragoza.

In accepting the invitation, Einstein had explained his problems with languages to Rey Pastor:

"I will accept your invitation on condition that I limit my lectures to the area of science and that I can use drawings and mathematical formulae. Given my complete inability to speak Spanish and my deficient knowledge of French, I would not be able to give my lectures if it were only possible to use words. German is the only language in which I can speak intelligibly about my theory. I look forward to meeting you again and to see your beautiful country for myself".

The lectures in Zaragoza were on special relativity and general relativity. In Barcelona and Madrid, he also delivered a lecture on his recent research and another, more informational one, on the philosophical consequences of the relativity. The audience figures surpassed the organisers' expectations, though most understood little of this illustrious visitor said. The press assiduously covered all the events he participated at; the science academies of the cities he visited bestowed honorary positions on him; the king himself went to see Einstein being named a corresponding academic of the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, where the Minister of Education, Joaquín Salvatella, closed the proceedings with these words:

"In congratulating Professor Einstein, I can tell him that by the will of the Sovereign and of the Government of Spain, this country is prepared to continue the work for peace that His Majesty undertook during the war and to provide help in their research to German scholars whose work is currently hindered by economic conditions in that country".

It was no empty promise, as the creation of the Einstein Institute in 1933 was to prove.

In a short travel journal, Einstein spoke of the king as "simple and dignified. I admired him"; speaking of the participants at the lectures, he wrote: "an attentive audience who I am sure understand almost nothing"; he refers to Cajal as a "wonderful old man"; he was enthusiastic about the Prado Museum with El Greco, Velázquez, Raphael, Goya and Fra Angelico; he mentions the pleasant welcomes he received, the good meals, the "tea with an aristocratic young lady", his visit to a ballroom... all, in short very cordial, although in a final note, he mentioned how lonely he felt inside, and wrote: "The party was awful, as usual".


With the members of the Faculty of Sciences of the Universidad Central de Madrid, in the "old house in San Bernardo street", 1923