Alcalá de Henares, city of knowledge
Aerial view of the centre of Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares University
Patio of Antezana Hospital
Statue of Cervantes at dusk
Just 35 kilometres from Madrid there is a town that made a fundamental contribution to universal culture, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries: Alcalá de Henares. Discover its University and its historic old town, which have the UNESCO World Heritage designation, and explore the streets that witnessed the birth of Miguel de Cervantes, author of the immortal Don Quixote.
Culture. This word describes Alcalá de Henares perfectly. It is a city with 2,000 years of history, whose origins go back to Roman Complutum. The best way to see for yourself is to visit the historic old town and enjoy its stunning monuments and heritage.
This historic town has an array of churches, palaces, mansions, gardens, monasteries, chapels, halls of residence... Take a look at the rooftops and chimneys of these buildings and you will see their very special tenants: white storks that make their nests on the roofs, and which have become a real symbol of the town. Of all its buildings, the University is particularly outstanding. It is the real epicentre of life in Alcalá - it was the first complex to be designed and built exclusively as a university campus. This was how this town so close to Madrid (access is on the N-II road) became an international cultural centre in the 16th and 17th centuries. Important intellectuals such as Lope de Vega, Quevedo, San Ignacio de Loyola and Calderón de la Barca, amongst others, had ties to the town. It is no coincidence that Alcalá is a vital stop on the route of the Spanish language, a major itinerary that takes in places that have been fundamental in the development of Spanish. This town is a point of reference for students of our language.
However, it was Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, one of the most important works of universal literature, who left the greatest mark on Alcalá de Henares. You will feel his presence in almost every corner of the town. His memory and legacy are alive and well to this day, not only in the house of his birth, now a museum, but also in the town's cultural agenda and in other emblematic spots such as the Cervantes Theatre, the site of Europe's oldest "corral de comedias" (comedy theatre). Be sure to take a stroll down calle Mayor (main street), the central axis of the old town, which is packed with shops, restaurants, bars and buildings with centuries of history. This is the best way to experience the bustle of a town which is very lively, thanks in part to the thousands of young people who come to study at the University.
A fun, original way to get to Alcalá is on the Cervantes Train. It runs in spring and autumn, departing from Atocha station in Madrid. On the way, a group of actors in period dress play out pieces taken from works by Miguel de Cervantes. Meanwhile, stewards on the train give out typical sweets from Alcalá de Henares. After visiting the city with a group of professional guides, the return trip from Madrid gets underway in the same train, and there is a draw for a copy of Don Quixote. For more information on this service, check the official RENFE (Spanish railways) website.
Furthermore, there are other tourist routes that take in the most emblematic places in Alcalá de Henares. Head to the tourist office, where they will give you advice on prices, timetables and visits.
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