How much do you know about the birthplace of Spain’s most prolific writer of all time, Miguel de Cervantes? Read on to find out:
Well connected and in close proximity to Madrid, Alcalá de Henares makes for a fascinating day out when it comes to choosing a destination for a family excursion, weekend getaway, learning the Spanish language, shopping or simply enjoying the pleasure of strolling around and visiting all that the only World Heritage City in the Community of Madrid has to offer.
Recognised with this title by UNESCO in 1998, the Alcalá of today is a cultural, educational, commercial and industrial centre of the first order. Capital of the rich region of the river Henares, around its economic and cultural activities a whole range of services are developed that make the city one of the most dynamic tourist destinations in Spain.
Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of the famed author of Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish novelist, poet, playwright and soldier. Let’s learn more about this great writer’s origins who’s had such a profound impact on both Spanish and global literature.
After the Visigothic period, the Muslim conquest changed the location of the city. It was born again to the east and was founded surrounded by walls and protected by an immense fortress, “Al Qal’ at Abd Al-Salam”, from which the name of today’s Alcalá de Henares comes from.
In 1118, the first archbishop of Toledo after the Reconquest, a Frenchman named Bernardo, took the city from the Muslims. In 1129, King Alfonso VII of Castile donated Alcalá and its lands to the archbishops of Toledo.
They built a significant castle, later a palace, where kings and nobles resided, where an emperor and a queen were born and where courts and councils were held, including the first meeting between Christopher Columbus and the Catholic Monarchs.
From the Middle Ages onwards, culture and the city began to be united when King Sancho IV, at the request of Archbishop García Gudiel, created in Alcalá a Study of General Schools, the forerunner of the University of the 16th century.
In 1499, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros founded the Complutense University. Classes began in 1508, and it soon became one of the main centres of European Renaissance culture.
The university foundation transformed the city’s medieval urban planning and turned it into a harmonious and exemplary urban complex dedicated to culture, where time gradually blended the Renaissance and the Baroque. And in a place of such wisdom, in 1547, fate would have it that Miguel de Cervantes was born.
Today, Alcalá de Henares combines the past with a present and a future committed to the development and promotion of the city in every sense. In the commercial aspect, the historic centre of Alcalá has become an example of the harmonisation of ancient traditions with the most varied proposals in the world of restaurants and shopping.
On October 9th, a series of events take place to commemorate the day on which Miguel de Cervantes was baptised (9th October 1547) known as Cervantes Week, and is also declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest.
At the beginning of November, the travelling performance “Don Juan en Alcalá” is held. November also sees the start of the Alcalá Film Festival (ALCINE), one of the oldest in Spain and the most important in the world of short films.
Plaza de Cervantes
This spectacular square full of flowers is located in the centre of the city, where you’ll find the statue in honour of Cervantes, the City Hall, the tower and the Church of Santa María la Mayor in the background.
It’s a lovely place to relax, take photos and enjoy strolling around.
La Calle Mayor (The Main Street)
Calle Mayor is the main street in the old town and the longest preserved collonaded street in Europe. The street starts right at the corner of Plaza Cervantes. This is a good place to grab a bite to eat if you get hungry, a few beers and tapas and you’re all set to head off exploring again.
The buildings that surround the street are still in their original style, and Cervantes’ birthplace is located here and can be visited.
The Birthplace of Cervantes
This is the building where, according to historians, Miguel de Cervantes was born on the 29th of September 1547. However, this information is not very reliable, as only the date if his baptism in the Church of Santa María la Mayor has been officially recorded.
How to Arrive from Madrid
You can get the train from Chamartín, Atocha and Principe Pío metro stations in Madrid. The train station in Alcalá de Henares is less than 10 minutes walking from the centre.
You can also get the 223 bus from Avenida de América in Madrid.