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Alcala de Henares

Calle Mayor

The Roman Empire found its way to Spain in the first century BC and they built a settlement in Alcalá de Henares. They called it, Complutum. The Visigoths drove the Romans away and they in turn were given the boot by the Moors in 711. The Moors named their new conquest, Al-Qal'at, which means citadel. Alcalá de Henares means citadel on the river Henares.

Alcalá was recaptured from the Moors in 1118 and became part of the bishopric of Toledo. It was in the early 16th century when Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros conceived the idea of a univeristy town and laid the groundwork for a university with the specific purpose of training students as administrators for the church and the state. For years the Universidad de Alcalá was the center of higher education in Spain until it was moved to Madrid in 1836 and Alcalá was left to languish. Thanks to the forward thinking group of citizens called the Sociedad de Condueños (Society of Joint Owners) who bought several of the university buildings and preserved them that the historic center has survived to this day. The current Universidad de Alcalá de Henares was established in 1977.

       Downspout of a gutter 

It is perhaps due to the local residents' keen awareness and appreciation of their cultural heritage that they pay particular attention to detail such as this downspout which I noticed along the arcaded walkways. These covered walkways on Calle Mayor are lifesavers especially when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. You can sit at a café or shop in comfort without getting burnt by the sun.

Stork's Nest

These white storks are increasing in numbers. They seem to love their perches atop the towers and steeples (of which there are a lot of) in town. And the white stork is a protected species in Spain and the local government attends to their needs. Once a year they migrate to Africa for a couple of months and return in October. But it seems this pattern is changing as it has been observed that they are now spending more time in Alcalá. 

Plaza de Cervantes

The university and city center was conferred the Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1998. This was the first city planned as a university town and became the model for other educational centers in Europe and the new world. 

El Paraninfo, Colegio de San Ildefonso

El Paraninfo is a jewel of a hall Inside the Colegio de San Ildefonso at the Universidad de Alcalá. In the old days, this was where a candidate for a doctorate degree was tasked to defend his studies and receive his diploma or if he fails, leave in shame.  Nowadays, the annual ceremony for the Cervantes Prize for lifetime achievement in literature is held here with the King of Spain giving the prestigious award to the winner.

Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes
With Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá in 1547. We know him best for his work, Don Quixote de La Mancha.  The house where he was born is on Calle Mayor and it displays furniture of the era as well as various early editions of his book since its publication and the translated versions. There are also precious drawings by Salvador Dali. There is much to see in this compact house and the entry is free.

Cervantes through Don Quixote has left us this inspiring passage:

"One man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable stars
And the world will be better for this."

How to get there: Take the Cercanias train from Atocha station or Ministerios from Madrid to Alcalá de Henares. It takes approximately 30 minutes to get there and costs 5€ as of this writing.


Images by TravelswithCharie


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