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World Heritage City

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The City of Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in December 1998, in recognition of the fact that Alcalá was the first planned university town as such in the world.
UNESCO's declaration not only refers to Alcala's historical heritage, but also to the city's cultural importance after Cardenal Cisneros founded Complutense University in 1499.

In its declaration UNESCO clearly mentions the University and the old part of Alcalá de Henares, an area which began to develop from the Middle Ages and in which Jews, Moslems and Christians lived together peacefully. The creation of the University at the end of the XV century resulted in a great expansion of art and culture during the Renaissance and the Golden Age. Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros -Archbishop of Toledo, twice Regent- set up an extensive humanistic and theological programme from the University and the colleges, and encouraged the publication of both religious and non-religious works, in particular the Polyglot Biblie.

Religion at the time passed through Alcalá de Henares, either as students or teachers, namely: Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, Antonio de Nebrija, San Juan de la Cruz, San Ignacio de Loyola, Santo Tomás de Villanueva¿ Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, born in the city in 1547, was one of these ilustrious figures; his memory pervades the very cultural heart of Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares has become a key destination for Cultural Tourism. Located 30 kilometres from Madrid on the N-II motorway, the former Roman "Complutum" prospered from the first century BC. During the Moslem domination the settlement was know as "Qual'at abd al-Salam", and from his reference to the Arab fortress the present name of Alcalá is derived. From the XII century it became a fortified town and the usual residence of the powerful Archbishop ot Toledo, who walled and expanded it. An example of their power can be seen in the magnificent "Palacio Arzobispal" (Archbishops Palace), where the Castilian monarchs frequently stayed as guests.
Remains of the former Medieval town are evident in its characteristic porticoed street "Calle Mayor" (High Street), where the Jews traded.

Alcalá de Henares reached the height of its glory from the end of the XV century, when Cardinal Cisneros founded Complutense University. The main site of which was San Ildefonso College, which boats an admirable plateresque façade.
The group of buildings includes three courtyards -'Santo Tomas de Villanueva', 'Filósofos' and 'Trilingue' -as well as the Central Hall and Chapel. The Central Hall is where the King and Queen of Spain present the Cervantes Prize for Literature every year.

Apart from Magistral Cathedral and San Bernardo Monastery ('las Bernardas'), Alcalá has many other religious and civic buildings of interest to the visitor, such as Cervantes´s Home and Museum, Antezana Hospital and San Felipe Neri Oratory. Towers, belfries and stteples, crowned with the nests of storks which live there all year, abound in the historic centre. The visitor can also take a quiet stroll around the old town and, at lunchtime, try classic Castilian cuisine -old Cervantes inspired recipes- and purchase the famous toffe almonds which the nuns still sell via a wooden turntable.

  • Plaza de Cervantes 12. 28801 Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) Telephone: 91 888 33 00
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