Alcalá de Henares - city in Spain

Nestling in the fertile valley of the Henares river, the city where Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quijóte) was born was founded as an important Roman settlement called Complotum. Later it became an Arab town known as Al Qalaa (the fortress), from which the present name Alcalá derives. With the Christian Reconquest, the city came under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Toledo and developed into an important Castilian centre where - just like the city of Toledo - Christians, Muslims and Jews lived side by side in perfect harmony.

When a cardinal named Cisneros founded the famous University of Alcalá de Henares in 1498, the city's finest period took off. The University publised Europe's first polyglot bible in 1517. Antonio de Nebrija, author of the first Spanish grammar, taught at the University.

During the 16th and 17th century, most of the monasteries, convents and colleges were built that shape the old part of the current city. Apart from Cervantes, Alcalá de Henares saw the birth of a whole other bunch of celebrities, including Catherine of Aragón (daughter of the Catholic monarchs and first wife of Henry VIII of England), arch priest Juan Ruiz of Hita, Ferdinand I of Bohemia (emperor of Germany) and Manuel Azaña (president of Spain's Second Republic in the 1930s). Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born here in 1547 by the way.

The decline of Alcalá began in 1836, when the University was transferred to Madrid. A century later, the Spanish Civil War and the accompanying civil disturbances caused extensive damage to many of the city's artistic riches. In recent decades, however, the city has undergone major industrial development (not always in favour of its charm, but never substantially affecting the historic old quarter), and a new University was established.

The main tourist attractions of Alcalá de Henares, 30 km east of Madrid, are the original University building (named Colegio de San Ildefonso) with a magnificent Patio Mayor (main courtyard), the Magistral de San Justo church and the mixture of Arab, mudéjar and Renaissance influences put together in the Palacio Episcopal (Episcopal Palace). The Casa de Cervantes (House of Cervantes) is a reproduction of a typical 16th century home where the author's birthplace (long since destroyed) is believed to have been situated. Inside is a small museum with old editions of Cervantes' works.

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