Since its foundation in 1835, the Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de Madrid (The Madrid Athenaeum) has hosted lectures and concerts, art exhibitions, courses and plays. The activities of its different sections gave it the character of a learned debating society that lived up to the triple mission implied in its title. With its excellent library, it was a constant channel of ideas, theories and movements, mixing seriousness and partisanship in varying proportions.
   As well as the orthodox activities of an athenaeum, the Ateneo, in response to political and cultural circumstances, social mores and personalities, has been a place for members to drop into the tertulias to debate, not only abstract and academic topics, but the burning issues of the day. Like its close relative the café, the Ateneo is, above all, an oral institution where every conceivable subject is discussed, with differing degrees of knowledge. Politics have, however, coloured the Ateneo's activities to such an extent that we would have a better idea of its role if we added político to the three terms already in the title. Dictatorships were never favourably disposed to the Ateneo in the past, and the period 1939 to 1975 was yet another period of intellectual darkness. Although the Ateneo remained open during the Francoist period, it was a time of silence, when certain topics could not be discussed, and of absences, when certain individuals could not be seen or heard. The story is in the names. In the years preceding the Civil War, lectures were given by Azorín, Maeztu, Ortega y Gasset, Gómez de la Serna, Pérez de Ayala, Benavente, Falla, Salinas, D'Ors, Menéndez Pidal, Américo Castro, Unamuno, Valle-Inclán, Azaña, Fernando de los Ríos, Besteiro, Indalecio Prieto, Alcalá Zamora, Madariaga, Marconi, Ludwig, Romains, Bergson, Malraux and Einstein, to name a few. By contrast, the post-1939 Ateneo was only a shadow of its past glories. And yet, dormant and muzzled as it was, the Ateneo managed to provide the student with a library, albeit a somewhat decimated one, the boarding-house dweller with heating, and old ateneístas with memories. It was as much as could have been expected from a cultural tomb. More than five years after Franco's death, the Ateneo had not yet been granted its right to hold elections, an essential precondition for resuming its normal life after more than forty years of neglect. Whether it was because of its long tradition as a home for political opposition which no-one was keen to resurrect, the spirit of renewal during the transitional period did little to restore the Ateneo to the ateneístas. Today, although the Ateneo's life is not threatened from outside, except by other institutions (Fundación Ortega y Gasset, Club XXI), its activities do not live up to its reputation, if one discounts nostalgia. The institution that once made history has been bypassed by history.
   Further reading
   - Ruiz Salvador, A. (1971) El Ateneo científico, literario y artístico de Madrid (1835-1885), London: Tamesis Books
   —— (1976) Ateneo, Dictadura y República, Valencia: Fernando Torres.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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