From the Selgas Schools to IES Selgas A historical, architectural and pedagogical heritage

Fortunato de Selgas y Albuerne ( middle) and his brother Ezequiel (right)

Let's go back to the beginning of the 20th century. The area has about 10000 inhabitants. According to the information we have, 45% of the population in Asturias were illiterate. In Piñera a family was specially worried about this situation. Fortunato de Selgas y Albuerne (1838-1921), one of the youngest sons of a wealthy married couple from “El Pito”, tried to fight against this problem. An erudite and passionate of the arts, he considered how he could make culture come to this village. He chose to build a school. He wanted the kids of Cudillero and its surroundings not to have any problems in the future due to a lack of education. He wanted to offer his hometown a better destiny. That was the origin of the Selgas Schools that nowadays is the high school of the council, IES Selgas.

Fortunato de Selgas himself, together with the architect Vicente Lampérez, designed the impressive building we have today. In front of it we can find a monument dedicated to the Selgas family, made by Victor Hevia in the 1920s, a gift from the community to the family. The legend "Fostering education makes your homeland stronger" can be read on it. The building would undergo a complete reformation in 1993 to help its change into a high school.

On 6th January 1915, the “Selgas Schools”, next to his palace, were opened. The speech which he gave showed his real intentions: “Following my siblings’ wishes, Don Ezequiel and doña Francisca de Albuerne, and mine, I founded and organized these “Escuelas Selgas” to teach and instruct the children in Santa María de Piñera, providing its classrooms with the teachers and necessary funds to support them, so that the pupils who study here can receive an education that can provide them with the necessary means for their future and make them aware of the warm feelings our family has for this area".

Family photo, taken the day the schools opened

In this project he wasn’t alone. Fortunato de Selgas designed, together with the rector of the University of Oviedo, Fermín Canella, the school charter. They even organized the timetable, which was a great advance for this small area at the time. His wish of having the best learning methods made him spend a huge quantity of money. The building was a great luxury for a village like “El Pito”. All students who wanted to come to the school were invited no matter what their families’ economic situation was. The project included lots of facilities: free books and school supplies. Students also had many motivations. For instance, there was cinema every Thursday as a way of fostering culture, beyond lessons in books.They also had a school canteen, which started just a few years after the schools were opened, and where students could have a free meal every day. In the sixties school transport was added, turning the school into a place with many advantages. In the following video some examples of the material used to teach.

The school was an example of education and its importance went beyond the Asturian boundaries. On the 30th November 1916, Alfonso XIII thanked Fortunato de Selgas because of “his work in favour of culture”. The Schools never closed, but they changed their status. In 1915 they were born as a private foundation for education; in 1986, the school began to form part of the public schooling system; and in 1995, it changed into nowadays high school.

The teachers who have worked at the Selgas Schools say that being part of them was something to be proud of, since the schools had been a national and regional reference. It was full of what later was called the “Selgas spirit”. This can be understood as an enthusiasm for being part of the community who had been fighting since the beginning of the XXth century to promote education and prevent illiteracy. María Noriega, who started working in the school in 1962, and became its headmistress later on, remembers special moments such as the raffles in which kids could win a toy and some money. “People wanted to come to the school because of its many advantages; everything was positive, it was just marvellous”, says Ms Noriega. There were many celebrations: School trips, afternoon teas and toys at Christmas, when the three Wise Men “visited” the school. On 25th June, St Jacques Day, a calf was raffled, while all the students shared a meal together. Even the chocolate had the family logo. “All this was a luxury available only for a few in Spain” she emphasizes. When students became 12, they could go to the business school, next to school.

Students and teachers sharing a meal together

Alberto Castellano, who is now a teacher at the high school, was also a student at the Selgas Schools. He remembers how much everything has changed. “People went to school happily”, he says. There was a close friendship and mutual understanding. Mr Castellano now teaches classmates’ grandchildren. Most students know the school's history and the reason why it was created: to transmit culture in difficult times.

Alberto and his students in 1st ESO have prepared a video in which they explain the beginning of the Selgas Schools and the process they underwent until they became today's secondary school, IES Selgas:

THE FAMILY. The story of family and the house is an interesting one : two brothers from a family of eight, inherited a big amount of money from their parents, owners of a grocery shop in Asturias.

Ezequiel Selgas and Fortunato Selgas

One of the brothers, Ezequiel, was very good at business, and made important friends in the capital, Madrid, like the Marquises of Urquijo and gave his brother, Fortunato, a good education. This made Fortunato a famous archaeologist, historian, art lover and a traveller, who invested his money on artworks, like many other rich families at the time. Both died in the the first years of the 20th century, the oldest without descendants. Fortunato's sons married two Fagalde sisters. They inherited the family properties, an heritage on condition that they should preserve it together, until they died. Then in the 90s, their wives, without descendants, gave the property to a foundation with two goals: conservation and cultural dissemination.

The palace, main entrance

THE PALACE, THE QUINTA OF SELGAS.  Víctor de la Serna, described it as ¨the pearl of the coast and one of the last big works of a period that will never return¨. The palace of French style, is often called the Versalles of El Pito. It was built between 1880 and 1895 by Ezequiel and Fortunato Selgas in a land inherited from their parents, and it was mainly the youngest brother who made the plans , ordering the construction to the arquitect Vicente Lampérez. From the beginning, the brothers tried to make the house an example of patronage and collection, they hired famous carpenters, painters and international artists to decorate the house and they brought a kitchen manufacturer from Belgium to design the kitchen, very modern for the period. The paintings and works of art were selected by the Selgas in collaboration with international dealers.Their collection includes more than two hundred paintings belonging to the Italian, Spanish, French and Flemish schools from the XV to XIX century.Besides, there is a collection of tapestry, glass, porcelain, clocks and furniture chosen personally by the Selgas brothers, who were well-educated art lovers. Nowadays, the house is preserved as it used to be when the family left it. There are other two buildings that were made by Fortunato’s sons in 1950.

The gardens

THE GARDENS. The house is surrounded by a nine hectare park and there are three types of gardens in it designed with the help of Henry Rigoreau Jouvert, from the school of landscaping of Versalles, who designed the entrance of the palace in French style, with geometrically designed gardens. At the back, there is a big English garden with lakes, pavilions and a greenhouse, brought from England by Ezequiel to grow plants and flowers. There are also especies from America, Japan or Australia. Between the main building and the other two there's an Italian garden inspired in the Renaissance architecture. These gardens were considered the best Spanish gardens by the Asamblea General de la Sociedad de Amigos del Real Jardín Botánico, ten years ago.

Jesús de Nazareno Church

JESÚS DE NAZARENO CHURCH. The church and its vault are located outside La Quinta’s enclosure. It was built in the late XIXth and early XXth centuries. It was opened in 1914 by the Princess of Asturias, Isabel de Borbón. The church was built following the XIIth century Romanesque style and has some pictures and stained glass windows of great importance, but the main attraction of the church is the crypt, which has inside the family’s vault and the oldest altar in Spain, from the VIIIth century, of a Visigothic style.

Information translated into English by the students at IES Selgas. Narrated video prepared by students in 1º ESO. Sources: https://sede.asturias.es/bopa/2015/03/16/2015-04279.pdf https://elblogdeacebedo.blogspot.com.es/2015/03/escuelas-selgas-creadas-en-1915-en.html https://web.archive.org/web/20140202204345/http://www.villadelsain.es/palacio-de-selgas http://selgas-fagalde.com/