Wiki & Alcalá de Henares Government — Placido Domingo Malaguena Music Video — Alcalá today — Tribute to Placido Domingo Video — The Route of the Storks in Alcalá — Sarah Chang (Violin) & Berliner Phil. Placido Domingo Video — Miguel de Cervantes — The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha — Ecclesiastical history — Cathedral of the Santos Niños — Universidad de Alcalá de Henares


imgAlcala de Henares1

“That’s the nature of women, not to love when we love them, and to love when we love them not”

Miguel Cervantes

In keeping with our cultural theme and “politics free” Sunday blog post, I have chosen to enlighten my readers on the history of a Spanish town near Madrid, the birthplace of the illustrious Miguel de Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote”, and my Spanish casa for many years while serving in the USAF stationed at Torrejon Air Base supporting the mission of the 16th Air Force.  For our Sunday music, I have selected Placido Domingo…



Alcalá de Henares

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. Located in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, 35 km northeast of the city of Madrid, at a height of 588 metres (1929 ft) above sea level, it has a population of around 200,000, the second largest of the region after the Spanish capital itself. The city is generally known simply as “Alcalá“, but “de Henares” is often appended to differentiate it from a dozen cities sharing the name Alcalá (from the Arabic word Arabic al-qal’a القلعة for fortification or citadel). It is capital of Comarca de Alcalá.

Blog Post Sources:  Wiki & Alcalá de Henares Government




Alcalá today

The centre of the city remains essentially medieval, with many winding cobbled streets, and many historic buildings. The last 10–15 years have marked a notable improvement in the city, and nowadays it is a pleasure to walk its streets. Still, there is work to be done. The city centre surrounds Cervantes Square (the famous Plaza de Cervantes) and is traversed by a long pedestrian main street, the “Calle Mayor”.

Fortunately 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 fabulous 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.


“There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.”

Miguel Cervantes




The Storks

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.

The Route of the Storks in Alcalá





The city boundaries have been inhabited since the Calcolithic. Romans conquered the area in the 1st century BC, and built the town of Complutum near a previous Celtiberian settlement, called Iplacea. Thus, it became the only Roman town in the Madrid region. With 10,000 inhabitants, it reached the status of Municipium and had its own governing institutions. After the falling apart of the Roman Empire, under the Visigoths, it declined, although it also became a pilgrimage place for the Saints Justo and Pastor.

When in 711 the Moors arrived, they subdued the Visigothic city and founded another site, building an al-qal’a, which means “citadel” in Arabic, on a nearby hill, today known as Alcalá la Vieja (Old Alcalá). On 3 May 1118 it was reconquered by the Archbishop of Toledo, Spain Bernardo de Sedirac in the name of Castile. The Christians preferred the Burgo de Santiuste (“Saint Just’s borough”) on the original Roman site and the Arab one was abandoned. The city was ceded to the Bishopric of Toledo, which granted it ferial rights. Under Christian rule until the end of the Reconquista, the city sported both a Jewish and a Moorish quarter and had a renowned marketplace. Its central position allowed it to be a frequent residence of the Kings of Castile, when travelling south.

At some time in the 1480s Christopher Columbus had his first meeting at the “Casa de la Entrevista” with the Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, who financed the travel for the Discovery of America.

The city suffered severe damage during the Spanish Civil War.





Historic figures and events

The author Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, and baptized in the Church of Santa Maria in 1547, although his family moved from the city when he was still young. The city celebrates his birthday, 9 October, every year and organizes an annual Cervantes festival. The local university is acknowledged as a global leader in the study of Cervantes and his works.

Every year on 23 April, the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, the city of Alcalá hosts the ceremony awarding the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world‘s most prestigious award for lifetime achievement in literature. The award is presented by the King of Spain at the University of Alcalá’s historic “Colegio de San Ildefonso.” Speeches about the importance of the Spanish language are customarily given by the King, the Minister of Culture and the laureate. The ceremony attracts a wide range of dignitaries to the city including members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, and others.

Other notable figures associated with the city are Ferdinand I of Aragon, cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, the mystic John of the Cross, the theologian Gabriel Vázquez, the poet Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita, and Manuel Azaña Díaz, writer and politician, who was President of the Second Spanish Republic between 1933 and 1936.




Ecclesiastical history

The town of historic importance was one of the first bishoprics founded in Spain.

The polyglot Bible known as the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the first of the many similar Bibles produced during the revival of Biblical studies that took place in the sixteenth century, was printed at Alcalá under the care of Cardinal Cisneros.

A Papal Bull of 7 March, 1885, united Alcalá with (effectively merging it into) the diocese of Madrid which includes the civil province of Madrid, suffragan of the archbishopric of Toledo, which was formally speaking not canonically erected before while its foundation dated from the Spanish Concordat of 1851.

The bishop’s residence has since been used for preserving historical archives. It was designed by Berruguete and has a famous staircase.

The principal towns within the Diocese of Alcalá with their populations in 1904, are: Alcalá itself (10,300), Colmenar de Oreja (3694), Colmenar Viejo (4758), Chinchon (4200), Escorial (4570), Getafe (3820), Leganes (5412), Morata (4000), Navalcarnero (3788), Pinto (2396), San Martin de Valdeiglesias (3290), San Sebastián de los Reyes (1477), Tetuan (2825), Torrejon (3081), Valdemoro (2726) and Vallecas (5625).


The Path of the Spanish Language ends in the Villa of Alcalá de Henares, one of the best breeding grounds for writers in the Golden Age of Spain. Cardinal Cisneros, founder of the University, not only printed a treasure like the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, but could also attract famous intellectuals such as Antonio de Nebrija, author of the first Spanish grammar. Lope de Vega and Quevedo walked around the University’s patios as students. Here was born Arcipreste de Hita, one of the first writers that used Castilian Spanish as a work tool. And, in some time or other of its history, many other famous Spaniards of Culture, Thinking, Religion and Politics, such as Calderón de la Barca, San Juan de la Cruz, San Ignacio de Loyola or Manuel Azaña, passed through Alcalá.

Nevertheless, out of all these, the most celebrated and representative of the city is, without any doubt, Miguel de Cervantes, whose memory is recorded in many parts of Alcalá. The museum and house where the author of “The Quixote” was born (on the 9th October 1547) and lived the first years of his life recreates with great style the everyday life of a family in the XVI century.

The trace of Cervantes can be found in many other points of the city: in the Chapel of Oidor, where you can see the font in which he was baptized in 1547; in the Plaza de Cervantes (square), where a statue of the writer is erected; and in many other places, like the Teatro Cervantes (theatre), which also give him tribute.

Because of its essential contribution, Alcalá de Henares was chosen in 1991 to hold the headquarters of the Cervantes Institute, the public organization for the study of the Spanish language and culture in the world, known as the most important emblem and platform for its promotion.




The Cathedral

The western façade of the Cathedral of the Santos Niños, illustrating a “florid” or “Isabelline” gothic style.

Aside from the buildings associated with the University, the city’s most important and historic building is the Cathedral-Magistral of Saints Justus and Pastor, known formally in Spanish as the “Santa e Insigne Catedral-Magistral de los Santos Justo y Pastor” or more familiarly as the “Catedral de los Santos Niños.” Constructed between 1497 and 1514, the Cathedral houses the remains of Saints Justus and Pastor, two Christian schoolboys martyred near the city during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century.

In 414 a chapel was erected at the site of Justus and Pastor’s martyrdom, and was converted into a Cathedral during the period of Visigoth control of Hispania; bishops from Alcalá were present at the Councils of Toledo beginning in the seventh century. In 1053 the old city of Alcalá (Alcalá la Vieja) was conquered by Ferdinand the Great, only to be recaptured the following year by the Moorish armies then warring for control of the Iberian Peninsula, who destroyed the cathedral as an act of retaliation. At that time the relics of Saints Justus and Pastor were taken to Huesca for safekeeping until after the reconquest of Alcalá in 1118. Although a church was rebuilt on the site in 1122, Pope Urban II, under the influence of his friend Raymond de Sauvetât, the Archbishop of Toledo, decided not to restore the Diocese of Alcalá at that time. Instead, de Sauvetât was able to secure the incorporation of Alcalá into his own archiepiscopal territories through a donation from King Alfonso VII in 1129.

The church was rebuilt again some three hundred years later by a subsequent Archbishop of Toledo, Alfonso Carrillo de Acuña, who elevated it to the status of a collegiate church. It was finally reconstructed in its present Isabelline Gothic style under Cardinal Cisneros (1495-1517), the founder of the University. A tower was added between 1528 and 1582, achieving its modern appearance in 1618. The processional cloister and the Chapel of Saint Peter were incorporated into the building in the seventeenth century.

The building was declared a national monument in 1904. Nevertheless, it was burned during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and practically all of its contents were destroyed with the exception of a few minor relics and choir seats.

It was not until 1991 that the Diocese of Alcalá was finally restored, being separated from the Archdiocese of Madrid, at which time the building was granted its present status of Cathedral-Magistral. (Although the title “Magistral” was originally granted by Cardinal Cisneros, the building was still technically only a Collegiate Church, and not yet a Cathedral within the ecclesiastical meaning of the term.)

The Cathedral of Alcalá is notable as one of only two churches in the world to be granted the special title “Magistral” (along with St. Peter’s Church in Leuven, Belgium). The title reflects its former status as a Collegiate Church, and derives from the requirement that all of the canons of the Cathedral must possess the academic distinction of Doctor of Theology in order to serve there.

In addition to that of Saints Justus and Pastor, the Cathedral also houses the tomb of renowned seventeenth-century Spanish sculptor Gregorio Fernández.


A southern passion together with the northern purity?



The University

The major landmark and greatest pride of the city, its university, is spread throughout the city, but generally exists in two campuses. The first is on the north side of Alcalá. This campus includes most science departments and student housing (as well as its own, separate RENFE station). The second, central campus, houses most of the humanity and social science departments, including a law school.

The architectural influence of the university can be found in other present-day academic institutions. The University of San Diego is largely based on the Spanish University; its campus and address take the name “Alcalá Park.” In addition, some buildings at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, were modeled after the architecture of Universidad de Alcalá de Henares.[3]

In 1496, Cardinal Cisneros founded the Universidad Complutense in Alcalá, which became famous as a centre of learning during the Renaissance. However, for economic reasons, the University was moved to Madrid in 1836 (under the name Universidad Complutense de Madrid). A new university was founded in the old buildings as the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in 1977. Parts of the new University occupy the buildings of the old Universidad Complutense in the city centre, including the modern Colegio de San Ildefonso, and other Colegios, and the structures have served as a model for other universities across the Spanish territories in the Americas and other dependencies. For a time before their restoration and occupation by the modern University the old buildings had fallen into ruins, and where the population of the city at one point numbered some 60,000, in 1900 it had dropped to some 10,000 inhabitants.

The university chapel dedicated to Saint Ildefonso has a monument to the University’s founder, Cardinal Cisneros, by Fancelli, an Italian sculptor.

It should be noted that while the present university is named “Universidad de Alcalá”, the ancient institution founded by Cisneros is the one now called “Universidad Complutense” located in the capital city of Madrid (“Complutensis” is the Latin word for “native of Alcalá”). The modern University is related to the original institution in name only, although it occupies the former buildings of the Complutense.




Related Previous Post:

Sunday Quizzes, Classic Saabs, Spain’s 1st Family Photo, And Narcissism (Zapatero Family photos raise controversy)

The Dog Days Of Summer: Stray “Blue” Dogs, A Summer Breeze, And Painting With Your Eyes (Museo Nacional del Prado: Spanish Painter Joaquín Sorolla)

Related Links:

2004 Madrid train bombings & Judicial Indictment – Downloadable in Spanish (Spanish)

Ayuntamiento de Alcala de Henares: Mueso Virtual

Works of Miguel de Cervantes

The Cervantes Project

Google Books: The history of that ingenious gentleman, Don Quijote de la Mancha