History of 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 "Hostería 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.
The old Roman city of Complutum and the Al-kala-en-Nahr of Muslim times experienced its period of maximum splendour after the creation of the Universitas Complutensis, founded by Cardenal Cisneros in the 15th century. From this point on, the city became a cultural focus which acted as a magnet for a multitude of scholars, and led to the establishment of numerous religious convents. It is worth remembering that education at that time depended on the church.Part of the walled enclosure of Alcalá de Henares is the area around the Archbishop's Palace. All around the perimeter are works by a range of authors in the Open-Air Sculpture Museum.
Construction was begun on the palace in the 13th century, and the Torreón del Tenorio tower dates from this time. The main façade is from the 16th century, and is the work of Alonso de Covarrubias. Every November the courtyard is used to stage the traditional performance of 'Don Juan', an outstanding play from the Spanish Golden Age.The convents of San Bernardo and Madre de Dios are also located in the area around the Archbishop's Palace. This latter building is today the site of the Archaeological Museum of the Region of Madrid
On the way to the cathedral of Los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor stands the Oratory of San Felipe Neri, the only male religious congregation remaining in Alcalá. The interior of its simple church is adorned with carved figures by Gregorio Fernández and Pedro de Mena, as well as famous Baroque religious images. Its library contains over 8,000 volumes, including particularly two incunabula.The cathedral is a Gothic construction onto which was added a tower in the Herreran style in the 17th century. Its bell tower, like numerous other towers in Alcalá, has been chosen by the storks to build their nest. Located in an open square, the façade of this church also serves as a set for the re-enactment of 'Don Juan', a festival of Regional Tourist Interest, which is held on 31 October and 1 November. The colonnade in the Calle Mayor leads on to the Cervantes House-Museum. This is a typically Castilian construction featuring a central courtyard with the rooms arranged around it. Furnishings and utensils from the time offer a glimpse of life in the 17th century. There is also an interesting collection of material related to the novel itself, such as old editions of 'Don Quixote' and numerous translations.Other interesting sites in the city are to be found around the Plaza de Cervantes square and the old university. The square is the site of the Corral de Comedias, an famous courtyard theatre which in the past staged works by the playwrights Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, both of whom studied in the town. The building still conserves elements from that time, but now more closely resembles the public buildings erected under the reign of Charles III in keeping with the romantic tastes of later times. The Town Hall, the Universes of Cervantes Information Centre, Malaga College and the Convent of Santa Úrsula are also located in the surrounding area.
One of the most emblematic monuments in Alcalá de Henares is its university, also known as the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso. Founded by Cardinal Cisneros, the interior still contains classrooms from the original structure. The current Plateresque façade dates from the 16th century, while the interior has attractive cloisters and Renaissance and Baroque courtyards. The sober brick college of San Pedro y San Pablo stands nearby.The old student residence known as the Colegio Menor de San Jerónimo is the site of the Hostería del Estudiante, now part of the Parador hotel network. Its best-known feature is its Trilingual Courtyard, so called because classes of Latin, Greek and Hebrew were given here. Built in the 16th century in the Renaissance and Mudéjar style, it has an attractive garden, a well and a courtyard with a colonnade. The restaurant offers a chance to sample Castilian cuisine in the form of the traditional garlic soup, 'cocido madrileño' (chickpea stew) and roast meats. And for dessert, hot chocolate with croutons.It is also well worth visiting the former Colegio del Rey school, where the children of the king's attendants were entitled to study. This is today the site of the Cervantes Institute, dedicated to the defence and dissemination of the Castilian language. Beside it stands the church and school of the Company of Jesus, today the Law faculty, and the church of Santa María. This is one of the many historical buildings in Alcalá which is today used by the university, as Alcalá de Henares continues to be an important university city.
The Cervantes Train A good way to travel between the cities of Madrid and Alcalá de Henares is on the sightseeing train. Throughout the trip, a company of actors perform several of the best-known episodes from the novel 'Don Quixote', and once in the city the ticket includes admission to some of the most famous sites. The train leaves the Atocha Railway Station (Madrid). It runs on Saturdays from April to June and from October to December.
The whole province The province of Madrid has a wide variety of routes for anyone wanting to explore all it has to offer. Some of the highlights of the capital city include the areas known as the Madrid of Los Austrias and Los Borbones, the Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofía museums, the typical neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and Chamberí, and the fashionable stores to be found in the Salamanca district. Another two treasures of the Madrid Region -and World Heritage sites- are Aranjuez and the Monastery of El Escorial. The gardens and palaces of Aranjuez stand near the interesting town centre, where the river, forest and the street layout comprise a fine example of a rationalist city. El Escorial, commissioned by Philip II in the Guadarrama mountains, is one of the greatest monuments in the Madrid Region, and was designed by Juan de Herrera. The castle of Manzanares el Real and the Plaza Mayor square in Chinchón are among the other attractions well worth visiting in this area.