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The battle took place in the first months of the Civil War in the University City of Madrid, the new campus of Madrid’s Complutense University. It lasted for about a week, between 15 and 23 November 1936, following which the front stabilized until the end of the war. The aim of the Republican militias was the defence of the capital at any price, to achieve which they needed to stop the progress of the columns at the command of General Varela and avoid the fall of Madrid into rebel hands.
The aim of the attacking armies of the military rebellion on the other hand was to "take the city" within the shortest possible period of time. This battle signalled the beginning of a new phase in the Spanish Civil war, for until then the Francoist troops had been advancing relatively unopposed across Spain, conquering large swathes of territory in a few months. But here, at the Ciudad Universitaria, for the first time, they encountered fierce and relentless opposition.