Originally a Greek outpost, in Roman times it hosted 14 legions under the orders of Emperor Trajan. Years later, the Muslims called it al- qal’a Nahar—from where its current name originates. Eventually, Luis Maria de Borbon y Vallabriga, Archbishop of Toledo, would conquer the town in 1088.
Historic Alcalá de Henares is also the birthplace of Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, first wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. It was also the city where Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus met for the first time to discuss the navigator´s voyage to India, which ended in the discovery of America.
Start your visit with a stroll through Calle Mayor, a busy street with the longest arcades in Spain. It is an ideal place to shop in its many boutiques and—in beautiful weather—succumb to the pleasure of its terraces and enjoy the famous tapas served at the many restaurants and bars. As you roam Calle Mayor, you will find statues of Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza, who seem absorbed in lively conversation. You should also visit the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes, a reproduction of the building where, according to historians, the great writer was born in 1547.
Alcalá de Henares is the host city for the Cervantes Awards, the highest yearly recognition of Spanish and Latin American letters. The venue selected for the event is the grand auditorium of the University of Alcalá, well worth a visit for its beauty and history. Founded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, regent of Spain, the university is today a learning center of the highest caliber where students from all over the world come to learn Spanish.
Other mandatory sites in Alcalá de Henares include the Magistral Gothic Cathedral, the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso, the Archbishop’s Palace, the walls protecting the city, and its eight convents that store important art collections. To complete the tour, you could also visit the Roman ruins, and the Comedy Corral, the oldest theater in Spain.
One of the most attractive hotels in town is the Parador Nacional de Turismo, located in the former 17th-century convent-school at the old Colegio Mayor San Jeronimo. With modern and elegant interiors, the hotel successfully combines tradition and modernity. It offers a spa, business center and convention center as well as spacious and comfortable rooms with all the amenities of a five-star hotel.
The best times of year to travel to Alcalá de Henares are June—for the Classical Theatre Festival—and October, the month dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes. ■