Romance and Classical Studies
Alcalá is famous for its University, which was founded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, confessor to Queen Isabella. In 1998, the University was designated Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Mankind Heritage Site) by UNESCO. The facade of the Universidad de Alcalá (1543) is one of the jewels of Spanish Plateresque architecture. Its immense wooden doors lead to the Patio de Santo Tomás de Villanueve, a three story patio with a well that features a swan motif (the emblem of the Cisneros family). The Patio de los Filosófos leads to the serene Patio Trilingúe. To the right is the Paraninfo, formerly used for examinations and degree ceremonies and currently the setting for the awarding of the Premio Cervantes.
Other Places Worth a Visit
La Casa Consistorial, La Casa de Cervantes, El Colegio del Rey, El Monasterio de las Monjas Bernardas, the chapel of San Ildefonso, the remains of the Moorish castle, and the Hostelería del Estudiante, which today is a national parador. Also try the traditional sugared almonds (almendras garrapinadas) made by the Poor Clares whose convent is by the University.
History of Alcalá de Henares
The city of Complutum, by the Henares River, was an important and prosperous center in Roman times. After the Moorish invasion, the name was changed to al-Kal'a-Nahr (fortress). Nevertheless, the city acquired its fame after the Reconquest of Spain, at which time Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros transformed an old Franciscan school into the University of Alcalá de Henares.
In 1494, the university acquired a printing press, which allowed a select group of scholars to undertake the writing of the first Polyglot Bible, which would consist of parallel texts in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and Chaldean. Other marvels which were produced in Alcalá during the era of Humanism included a book on Castillian grammar by Nebrija, a Hebrew-Chaldean dictionary, and a Hebraic grammar.
Some famous Spaniards born in Alcalá include Catherine of Aragon (the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and the first wife of Henry VIII), the Spanish architect Bustamante, who brought Italian-style Renaissance architecture to Spain, and finally Miguel de Cervantes.