Alcalá de Henares
This town near Madrid, birthplace of the illustrious Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote”, and home to one of the most prestigious universities in Spain, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its rich monumental heritage, formed by churches, convents and university buildings, gives us a glimpse of life in Castilia during the Spanish Golden Age. Its historic quarter also has the “Mesón del Estudiante” Inn, which is part of the network of Paradores de Turismo. Walls with four hundred years of history make the perfect place to sample the best of the local gastronomy. Read more
The old Roman Complutum and the Muslim Al-kala-en-Nahr lived its period of greatest splendour after the creation of the Universitas Complutensis, founded by Cardinal Cisneros (15th century). From that date on, the city became a cultural focal point which attracted any number of scholars and influenced the establishment of numerous relgious convents. It must not be forgotten that education at that time depended on the Church.
Part of the walled enclosure of Alcalá de Henares stretches around the Archiepiscopal Palace. Surrounding this perimeter are the works of several sculptors from the Open-Air Museum of Sculpture Construction work began on the palace in the 13th century and the large Tenorio Tower dates from this time. The main façade is from the 16th century and is the work of Alonso de Covarrubias. Each November, its interior courtyard hosts the traditional production of 'Don Juan', an exceptional work from the Spanish Golden Age.
In the vicinity of the Archiepiscopal Palace are the convents of San Bernardo and Madre de Dios. The latter currently houses the Madrid Regional Archaeological Museum.
On the way to the Cathedral of the Santos Niños Justo y Pastor stands the Oratory of San Felipe Neri, the only male religious order remaining in Alcalá. Carvings by Gregorio Fernández and Pedro de Mena, distinguished baroque image makers, adorn the inside of its simple church. Its library contains more than 8,000 volumes, among which two incunables are outstanding.
The Cathedral is a Gothic construction to which a Herrara style tower was attached in the 17th century. Its belltower, like a great many towers in Alcalá, has been chosen by the storks to make their nest. Located in an open square, the façade of this holy church also acts as scenery in the production of 'Don Juan' on All Saints Day.
The porches of Calle Mayor lead us to the Cervantes House Museum. It is a typically Castilian construction with a courtyard surrounded by outbuildings. Furniture and implements from the age show us what life was like in the 17th century. It is also interesting to see the collection of varied material related to his work, such as old editions of 'Don Quixote' and numerous translations.
Other interesting sites in the city are spread around Plaza de Cervantes and the old University. In the square is the Teatro de Cervantes Theatre, a major open-air theatre which stages the works of Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, writers who studied here. The construction conserves elements from the age, but now it looks much like the public buildings erected during the reign of Carlos III and in the Romantic style of later periods. The City Hall, the chapel of Oidor, the Colegio de Málaga and the Convent of Santa Úrsula form part of the surroundings.
One of the key monumental sites of Alcalá de Henares is its University, the Colegio de San Ildefonso. Founded by Cardinal Cisneros, it still conserves lecture rooms from the original structure. The current plateresque façade dates from the 16th century, while inside are a beautiful cloister and Renaissance and baroque courtyards. The sober, brick-built Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo is a step away.
The old Colegio Menor de San Jerónimo houses the Inn of Acalá de Henares, belonging to the Paradores de Turismo network. The most representative thing to see is the Patrio Trilingüe, named so because in this college classes were given in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Built in the 16th century in the Renaissance and Mudejar style, it has a beautiful garden, well and columned courtyard. Its kitchens offer us the chance to sample Castilian cuisine in the shape of garlic soup, Madrid stew and roasts. For dessert, chocolate with fried bread.
Also worth a visit is the old Colegio del Rey, where the sons of the king's servants could study. It currently houses the Instituto Cervantes, an institution dedicated to the defence and dissemination of the Spanish language. Next door is the church and the college of the Society of Jesus, today the Law Faculty and the church of Santa María. It is one of many historic buildings here which are currently used for university purposes, since Alcalá de Henares is still a major university town.
The province of Madrid offers different routes for us to see every corner. In the capital, Habsburg and Bourbon Madrid, the Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofía museums, the traditional neighbourhoods of Lavapies or Chamberí and the designer boutiques of the Salamanca district are just some of its attractions. Other jewels of Madrid, and also World Heritage Sites, areAranjuez and the Monastery of El Escorial. The gardens and palaces of Aranjuez combine with the interesting town centre, where the river, woods and the layout of the buildings form a fine example of a rationalist city. El Escorial, ordered to be built by Felipe II in the Guadarrama mountain range, is one of the largest monuments in the Madrid region, the work of Juan de Herrera. The castle of Manzanares el Real and the Plaza Mayor in Chinchón are other attractions of the towns in this area.
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