Alcalá de Henares

Since the foundation of the Cisnerian university in 1499, the history of the city of Alcalá de Henares has been intimately bound up with that of the University. However, as the Arabic origin of its name (al-qal’a Nahar = Castle over the River Henares) indicates, the city has a much longer history, stretching at least as far back as the Roman city of Complutum. For centuries peaceful home to Jew, Christian and Muslim, birthplace of Catherine of Aragon and stage for one of Columbus’ interviews with the Catholic Kings, Alcalá de Henares is best known worldwide as the cradle of Miguel de Cervantes, creator of Don Quixote. Cervantes’ statue will guide you as you shuttle between Caracciolos and the Rectorate, while his birthplace museum is well worth a visit between sessions.

‪Visit the city website.

The University

‪One of Europe’s oldest universities, with early origins that can be traced as far back as 1293, the University of Alcalá as we know it today was founded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros. Conceived as a veritable City of God on Earth, the Cisnerian University’s complex of colleges and convents was the world’s first campus university, one reason why UNESCO declared university and city a World Heritage site in 1998.

‪In the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, many of the leading figures of Spain’s intellectual and literary “Golden Age” studied or taught at the university, including Antonio de Nebrija, the quarter centenary of whose Polyglot Bible is being celebrated this year, Ignacio de Loyola, Juan de Mariana, Francisco Valles de Covarrubias, Juan de la Cruz, Lope de Vega and Francisco de Quevedo. After being transferred to Madrid in the nineteenth century where it would become the famous Complutense University, the University of Alcalá was refounded in Alcalá in 1977.

‪Since then, it has grown to cover three main campus sites, one in the historic city centre, another at a former military airfield on the outskirts of Alcalá, and the third in the city of Guadalajara. This expansion has been characterised by the University’s twin hallmarks of respect for tradition and commitment to innovation, a combination whose successful management has led to many awards, not least the accolade of being Spain’s “greenest” university. And if in the Spanish-speaking world the University is best known today for hosting the annual Cervantes Prize Ceremony, in the future the legacy of its extraordinary international vocation will perhaps ensure it an even wider fame.

‪Find out more at the University site.

Where to eat

‪Things have changed since Don Quijote spent three-quarters of his income on such modest fare as beef and mutton pot, a nightly gallimaufry, collops and eggs, lentils, and the occasional pigeon (lean) on Sundays. Even the most cash-strapped will today find plenty to take the edge off their hunger without emptying their purses.

‪“De tapas” in Alcalá

‪There is a wide range of establishments in the historic centre of Alcalá waiting to induct you into the city’s “tapas” culture. Most bars, pubs and taverns serve “tapas”, often of generous proportions, to accompany a drink at no extra cost. A stroll from either of the conference sites towards the Calle Mayor (see map) and around adjacent streets (Bedel, Libreros, Ramón y Cajal, and a long etc.) can soon become a gastronomic pleasure-tour of mouthwatering tastes and flavours.


‪For those preferring a sit-down meal at a slightly higher price, there is also a wide range of restaurants running the full gamut of styles and cuisines.