Alcalá de Henares meaning Citadel on the river Henares, is a Spanish city, whose historical centre is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, and one of the first bishoprics founded in Spain.
Home of the world-renowned literary genius Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Alcalá de Henares has enjoyed World Heritage status since 1998, in recognition of its rich historical and monumental legacy, as well as for being the first university city in the world. It is therefore recognised for the cultural influence it has exerted since 1499 when Cardinal Cisneros founded the original Complutense University. This was the model that was reproduced by other European universities, which Spanish missionaries then took to Latin America. Nowadays, the city remains linked to the world of literature and culture with the Cervantes Prize awarded on the 23rd of April every year in the auditorium of the university. The award is regarded as the Nobel prize for literature in the Spanish language. Visiting the Colegio de San Ildefonso (San Ildefonso College) to check out the old university’s facade is highly recommended. The Aula Magna with its coffered ceiling and the Patio Trilingüe are worth a visit. Other tourist attractions include the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes (the Cervantes Birthplace-Museum), Iglesia-Catedral Magistral (the Magistral Church-Cathedral), Palacio Arzobispal (the Arzobispal Palace), Corral de Comedias (the Theatrical Courtyard), Monasterio de San Bernardo (the Monastery of San Bernardo) and Museo Arqueológico Regional (the Regional Archaeological Museum).
Alcalá de Henares is also the perfect place to take a walk, wander the streets and squares, have some tapas or grab lunch in one of its top-notch restaurants, sit and have a chat on a terrace, go shopping or even to splash out on some sweet treats whether they’re from a local bakery or a convent. On top of that, in spring and autumn you can take a ride on the Tren de Cervantes (the Cervantes Train), a journey that takes you back in time, travelling from Atocha to Alcalá with onboard performances set in the Cervantes period.
The centre of the city remains essentially medieval, with many winding cobbled streets, and many historic buildings. The city centre surrounds Cervantes Square (the famous Plaza de Cervantes) and is traversed by a long pedestrian main street, the Calle Mayor. The old city centre has been largely preserved, unlike the suburbs. There has been no clear planning by the city councillors regarding expansion, and the sprawling suburban areas are irregularly constructed, with the addition of seventies-style high rise blocks in many places. One of the most important streets in the city is the Calle del Cardenal Cisneros which takes tourists from the Madrid Gate at the entrance of the city, to the old city center and the Cathedral in Santos Niños Square. The city hosts a large population of international students due to the presence of the University, and in particular its Spanish language and literature programs for foreign students.
Alcalá is well-known for its population of white storks. Their large nests can be observed atop many of the churches and historic buildings in the city, and are themselves a significant tourist attraction. Situated in the lowlands of the Henares river, the city is an attractive home for the migratory storks due to the wide availability of food and nesting material in the area. For over twenty year’s Alcalá’s storks have been counted and studied, and the active protection and maintenance of their nests is by official policy. Although once in danger of disappearing, with only eleven pairs counted between 1986 and 1987, the population has grown to around 90 resident pairs today, many of which have shortened the distance and duration of their typical migrations to remain in the city nearly all year.
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