Alcalá de Henares: A world heritage city
Located near Madrid, Alcalá de Henares is known for its architectural beauty, academic legacy, and for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote. What’s more, its monumental heritage, rich with churches, convents and university buildings, allows visitors to step into Castilian life during the Golden Age of Spain. For these reasons and more, Alcalá de Henares has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Come discover this iconic Spanish city and its centuries of history.
The long legacy of Alcalá de Henares
The origins of what is now Alcalá de Henares date far back in history, to the days when it was the Roman city of Complutum. Centuries later, after it fell under Moorish rule, it became Al-kala-en-Nahr, which was later adapted to its present name after the Spanish reconquest. In its long and turbulent history, the city reached the peak of its splendor in the 15th century, after the creation of the Universitas Complutensis. At the time, it was among the most respected universities in Europe, and the city became a cultural hub, attracting the most gifted scholars and resulting in the establishment of many religious convents.
A wealth of sites and monuments bears testimony to the city’s rich cultural and historic legacy. Most notably, the walled area of Alcalá de Henares encompasses the Archbishop’s Palace, which dates back to the 13th century. The cathedral is another landmark, with its Gothic architecture and dramatic bell tower. As it stands in an open square, the façade of this church is also used as the set for the annual re-enactment of ‘Don Juan’, a festival of Regional Tourist Interest. On the other hand, true Don Quixote fans can visit the Cervantes House-Museum, with furnishings, decor and utensils from the 17th century in place and perfectly preserved. And of course, don’t miss the university and its surrounding historic district – this is one of the main factors that contributed to Alcalá de Henares earning its designation as a World Heritage City.
A tip: Consider spending the night on these historic university grounds. The old student residence is the site of the Hostería del Estudiante, now a luxurious Parador hotel.
World Heritage sites in the area
Not surprisingly, the region surrounding Alcalá de Henares also boasts two World Heritage sites: Aranjuez and the Monastery of El Escorial. The gardens and palaces of Aranjuez were chosen for how they exemplify the complex relationship between man and nature, and present harmony in their coming together. The Monastery of El Escorial in the Guadarrama mountains, on the other hand, is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest architectural wonders. And, while they haven’t been designated as World Heritage sites, the castle of Manzanares el Real and the Plaza Mayor square in Chinchón are among the other historic attractions that should not be missed in this area.
Visiting Alcalá de Henares on your tour
If you are travelling through the Madrid area, Alcalá de Henares is certain to be one of the highlights for your group. Make sure you get the most from your journey, and contact us today to start making arrangements!