Tuna of the University of Alcala the Henares

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A ‘Tuna’ is a group of university students who play guitar and sing serenades to earn money or food. The Tuna of the University of Alcala the Henares is one of the most famous in Spain.

WARNING! The opinions in this post are solely those of Dr_Trim, and therefore Alcalanow is not responsible for them. Alcalanow wants to express its solemn respect for the never-enough prized Tuna.

Have you ever met anybody in the streets of Alcalá, or of any Spanish city, looking like this??:

Tuna Alcala de Henares
The tuna of the University of Alcala de Henares

If you have, then you yourself have encountered the famous tuna, and you may still considered yourself lucky for having come out of this encounter in one piece, or at least not suffering from brain damage.

-But is the tuna, so terrible?
-But what is the fearsome tuna?
-Let me explain…

The origins of the tuna are lost in time, but apparently, it originated in Spain and Portugal during the 13th century as groups of university students who played guitar and sang serenades to earn money or food (sometimes they are also called sopistas, from sopa (soup)).

The origin of the name ‘tuna’

There are several theories about the origin of the name tuna, one being that they are named after the tuna fish, which like the tuna moves endlessly. However since the Spanish name for the fish is atún, no possible relation is to be found.

The most plausible explanation is that tuna is derived from tunante, a old-fashioned word which could be roughly translated as rascal. Tunos were famous for being troublesome, singing and partying through the night, and therefore  named “tunantes”.

No relation with the fruit tuna (aka prickly pear, called higo chumbo in Spain) can be found.

This old tradition stretched over time and nowadays you can still find these groups of students (or more often ex-students) in traditional dress playing and singing serenades and folklore songs everywhere. Dr. Trim has personally had the pleasure of meeting some tuneros in Munich at 3.00am in a bar. The arms of the tuna are long!

The song repertoire is very long; comprising  serenades, folklore music, world music or even pop and rock. Some of the more famous traditional songs are “Clavelitos de mi corazón”, “Triste y sola se queda Fonseca”, and several others.

The clothing of the tuno

Nowadays the clothing of the tuno seems to be derived from that of the university students of the 16th and 17th centuries. The outfit is called a grillo – cricket, and consists of a cloak, doublet, beca, shirt, stockings, baggy trousers or gregüescos and shoes or boots

Big finale– The doublet is a tight-fitting jacket which is worn over a white shirt with big cuffs and a collar, commonly finished at the corners

– The shirt is white with a large collar

– The pants are baggy trousers or gregüescos normally short and wide, thigh length and fitted at  the end

– The shoes and tights are garments which cover the foot and the legs to the waist

– The beca (something like a sash) is the band with a color identifying the university or faculty from which the tuno comes. It is worn on the breast and shoulder. The seal of the university is embroidered on the beca, identifying the school, faculty or university of the tuno. The beca is received from the whole tuna when their comrades considered that the aspirant has reached a sufficient grade of experience.

– The cloak, is long and loose, without sleeves, open in front and worn over the clothes. Seals and shields of the cities, towns and countries the tuno has collected from around the world are displayed on the cloak. Also multicolored ribbons and shreds are worn on the cloak in a sign of affection, expressing feelings or love.

Tuna of the University of Alcala de Henares

Practically every university or faculties have their own tunas, the ones from Salamanca and Santiago de Compostela are very famous; with a long history of several centuries. Another  famous one in Spain, is the one in Alcala: La Tuna de Alcalá de Henares. They usually attend competitions and showcases around the world.

Tuna songs

Among youngsters la tuna is sometimes a laughable matter, seeing mainly old people wearing such strange garments and playing corny songs; therefore many modern songs, mostly underground, ridicule them or the songs they sing.

Here are some examples:

LOS GANDULES- Canción de Tuna (Tuna’s song)

DEF CON DOS- Tuno Bueno, el Tuno Muerto (The good tuno, the dead tuno)

Despite the title of the last song, in Alcalanow, we prefer them alive!!!


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