Visit Alcala de Henares, Spain; a travel guide to the UNESCO listed city

Alcala de Henares, Madrid

Visit Alcala de Henares

Alcala de Henares is a city in the Madrid Province region of Spain. It is about 30 km from Madrid.

Alcala de Henares is a modern industrial city but it has an attractive medieval centre and a place in history as the first city to be built as the seat of a university. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visit Alcala de Henares, Spain

Alcala de Henares is one of the oldest university towns in Europe. It was founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1508 and in the 16th century its university rivalled the university of Salamanca. It is home to many historic buildings dating to the 'Golden Age' of Spain. These include university buildings, churches and monasteries.

The main sights lie in the medieval centre. Many of the university colleges have been destroyed but the magnificent San Ildefonso college remains. This has a wonderful Plateresque facade, a cloister, a Great Hall with a Mudejar ceiling and Renaissance and Baroque courtyards.

Another of the city's most important buildings is the cathedral. The cathedral is dedicated to the saints Justus and Pastor, two schoolboys martyred by the Romans in the 4th century. The cathedral lies on Santos Ninos Square and was built in the 15-16th century. Have a look at its 17th century belltower which is home to a storks nest! Also to see is the Archbishop's palace where Christopher Columbus and King Ferdinand planned Columbus' voyage to the west.The palace has an original 13th century tower and its facade is 16th century. Some of the original defensive walls can be seen here too and all around the walls are sculptures by numerous artists making up an outdoor Sculpture Museum.

Nearby the convent of San Bernado was built in 1617 by Cistercian monks and is now open to the public. The Madre de Dios convent is also nearby and is home to an Archeological Musum.

Alcala de Henares' main square is the attractive Plaza Cervantes. Just nearby can be found the Corral de Comedias, the oldest theatre in Europe. It has been restored and you can take a guided tour to explore the building and its history. The main part of the old city surrounds the Plaza Cervantes and consists of three distinct areas: the Moorish quarter, the Jewish quarter and the Christian quarter. Cobbled streets and winding alleys make the city centre a pleasure to visit.

Within the historic centre is the 'Hostería del Estudiante' which was built in the 17th century as a convent and which is now one of Spain's wonderful Parador hotels. It overlooks the Patio Trilingue of the university where Greek, Latin and Hebrew were once taught.

In 711 the Moors arrived and defeated the city. They built a citadel on a nearby hilltop and the ruins of this are nowadays known as 'old Alcala', 'Alcala la Vieja'.

Alcala de Henares is the birth place of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, which is considered to be the first modern European novel. Miguel de Cervantes is one of the world's greatest novelist. Every year at Alcala his birthday, the 9 October, is celebrated with the Cervantes festival. On the anniversary of his death, the 23 April, there is a major awards ceremony for the coveted Cervantes prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.

Museums in Alcala de Henares

The Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes is built upon the site of Cervantes birth and has been built and furnished in 16th century style.  The building is typical of the Castilian style with a central courtyard and rooms around its edges. Several items related to Cervantes plus a few early copies of Don Quixote, his masterpiece, are kept in the museum.

Places to Visit Nearby

Of course Alcala de Henares is close to Madrid, a stunning city not to be missed on your travels. A particularly interesting way to visit Madrid is to take the 'Cervantes train'. A group of actors perform scenes from Cervantes 'Don Quixote' whilst the train travels between the two cities. The train runs on Saturdays in April to June and October to December. One of Spain's most visited monuments, the monestry complex of El Escorial is to the west of Madrid.

See also:

Map of Alcala de Henares & places nearby

Selected places to visit near Alcala de Henares