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Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares is a town that is 29 km away from Madrid, really a suburb of Madrid. The name Alcalá de Henares means "castle on the river Henares". The Unesco has given it the title of a World Heritage site because of its rich heritage of churches, monasteries, and the university (founded in the 15th century). It was also the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. The town started as a Roman town called Complutum. The university was started in the 15th century as the Universitas Complutensis by the very powerful Cardinal Cisneros, who printed the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.
Famous writers and intellectuals who lived in the city include Antonio de Nebrija (author of the first Spanish grammar), Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Arcipreste de Hita (one of the first writers that used Castilian Spanish as a work tool), Calderón de la Barca, San Juan de la Cruz, San Ignacio de Loyola , Manuel Azaña, and the most famous of all - Miguel de Cervantes.
To go there, take a Cercanias train (Line 2 or Line 7) from Atocha Station to Alcalá de Henares train station: on rush hours trains depart every 5-10 minutes, and the journey lasts aproximately 35 minutes. Or, as an alternative, go to the Intercambiador (transportation hub) at the Avenida de America. At the bottom of the hub is the bus station and the company is the Continental Auto, Line 223. The tickets are sold close to where Bus 223 stops. The trip takes an hour because there are frequent stops and a lot of traffic.
What to See1. The Cathedral of Santos Justo and Pastor - The Cathedral was built between 1497 and 1516 as a Gothic church. The outside of the church looks like a fort and not a church. There is one bell tower that was finished in the 17th century. The church itself is not extraordinary. It has a big museum which is worthy to see because it has a lot of religious art and very good sculptures by well known artists. The high altar has the incorrupt body of San Diego de Alcala. The main facade of the church is in the flamboyant Gothic style. It is thought that the church was built where the children Justo and Pastor of Alcala were martyred in 305 A.D. Cardinal Cisneros was the person who built the church. The church has three naves.
2. The Colegio de San Ildefonso - This is the current name of the university. There are many buildings, but the main building has the beautiful Plateresque facade that dates from the 16th century. The courtyard is impressive and dates from the Renaissance. There is a beautiful chapel next door.
3. Calle Mayor - The Calle Mayor is the main street in the old part of the city and is the largest porticoed street in Spain. The buildings are two story buildings with small porches on the second stories. This street looks very rustic and the buildings are full of stores on the ground floor. The street leads to the big Plaza de Cervantes.
4. Plaza de Cervantes - This is a large plaza filled with gardens and is the center of the city, and has the monumental sculpture of Cervantes. On one side of this plaza is the Capilla del Oidor, which used to be a chapel and is now used for cultural exhibits.
5. Casa Natal de Cervantes - On Calle Mayor is the Casa Natal de Cervantes, the house where the writer Miguel de Cervantes was born and lived. The house has a typical Castilian construction with a patio surrounded by buildings. The house is furnished with 17th century furniture. What catches one's attention is the room where the ladies of the house were supposed to spend their time. It is devoid of furniture and has big pillows on the floor and a spinning wheel. The museum has old editions of Don Quixote. Outside the building on the sidewalk is a bench with bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the characters of Cervantes' book.
6. Capilla del Oidor - Don Pedro Diaz de Toledo was the advisor of King Juan II and he founded this chapel in the 15th century. It used to be part of the parish of Santa Maria la Mayor and is decorated in the Mudejar manner. The coffered ceiling is also Mudejar. The building is used as an exhibition hall today.
7. Casa de la Entrevista House - Cardinal Cisneros founded the church of San Juan de la Penitencia, which is now this house. Queen Isabela la Catolica gave Christopher Columbus his first interview in this building, which is now an exhibition hall of the city.
8. Open Air Sculpture Museum - The sculptor Pepe Noja was the person who started this open air sculpture museum in 1991 along Via Complutense. There are about 100 abstract sculptures and every sculpture has a plaque with the name of the artist, but no title, so that the viewer can do as many interpretations as he wants. The museum opened in 1993 and many of the artists are internationally famous.
9. Archaeological Museum - This museum shows the remains of past ages and is located beside the Bishop's Palace, at Plaza de las Bernardas.
10. The Storks of Alcala - There are a large number of storks that nest on top of the churches of the city. Today there are about 90 pairs that nest in the city and they are protected by the city, although in the past it was feared that they were going to be extinct.