Alcalá de Henares University

Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Founded by Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros in the early 16th century, Alcalá de Henares was the world's first planned university city. It was the original model for the Civitas Dei (City of God), the ideal urban community which Spanish missionaries brought to the Americas. It also served as a model for universities in Europe and elsewhere.

The property includes a magnificent complex of historic buildings, such as the exceptional Colegio Mayor de San Idelfonso or the Monastery of St Bernard. The University Precinct begins at the Plaza Cervantes and extends to the east of the medieval city. It was enclosed by demolishing part of the earlier medieval walls and prolonging them around the new urban development. The layout is based on humanist planning principles, with two main axes and a central place (nowadays Plaza de San Diego) where the main University buildings are located. The walled medieval precinct has the Iglesia Magistral (Cathedral) at its core, from which the street network radiates, merging into the former Jewish and Arab quarters. To the north-west is the ecclesiastical precinct, surrounded by its own walls; at its heart is the Archbishop’s Palace. Within the historic centre there are several protected buildings under the Spanish legislation.

The city has its origins in the Roman town of Complutum. It expanded during the Middle Ages and flourished in the 16th century thanks to the foundation of the University. The concept of this city, its planning and provisions, belong to the project designed by the University’s founder, Cardinal Cisneros. He had bought land in the east of the medieval city with the aim of providing the necessary infrastructures to carry out his university project, a project that included colleges, halls of residence, hospitals and printers, all of which contributed to the University of Alcalá’s outstanding intellectual achievement for hundreds of years. Juxtaposed with the medieval town, this new city was converted into an exceptional model that embodied the Augustinian model of the City of God, as well as to the way it was planned and the buildings it was endowed with. The dream of the Civitas Dei became a reality, reaching the highest levels of intellectual achievement of the era in the sciences, language and literature, personified by its most illustrious son, Miguel de Cervantes through his universal work ‘Don Quixote’.

Alcalá de Henares was designed with the strict purpose of being the seat of a university. It was the first city of this kind in history and it became a University City model for the Americas and Europe. Alcalá exported its prestige and its form of organization: a microcosm where religious orders, the town citizens, the academic world, education and knowledge all lived together. It is also a unique example of the architecture pertaining to the House of Austria, characteristic in the centre of Spain during the Baroque period.

The historical centre of Alcalá de Henares is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

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User Reviews

Ijaz Bloach (3 years ago)
The univesity of Alcala, the town of Spanish Shakespeare the writer Don Quixote.
mohammed al-hajj (3 years ago)
I love all the details of the university of Alcalá ,and I am in love with the library it 24/7 365 opened
ángel zarazaga (3 years ago)
They offer guided visits in English during the weekend.
Bruno Landau (4 years ago)
As a tourist walking in by coincidence is a treat. Reading about its history makes it even more fun. Beautiful courtyard, the one in the back had the most amazing bird action I have seen. Worth a visit when in Alcalá.
Ryan Corcoran (4 years ago)
Great experience learning in the second oldest university in Spain. Beautiful campus. There are tons of international students here as well.
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Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Palazzo Colonna

The Palazzo Colonna is a palatial block of buildings built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum, and has belonged to the prestigious Colonna family for over twenty generations.

The first part of the palace dates from the 13th century, and tradition holds that the building hosted Dante in his visit to Rome. The first documentary mention notes that the property hosted Cardinal Giovanni and Giacomo Colonna in the 13th century. It was also home to Cardinal Oddone Colonna before he ascended to the papacy as Martin V (1417–1431).

With his passing, the palace was sacked during feuds, and the main property passed into the hands of the Della Rovere family. It returned to the Colonna family when Marcantonio I Colonna married Lucrezia Gara Franciotti Della Rovere, the niece of pope Julius II. The Colonna"s alliance to the Habsburg power, likely protected the palace from looting during the Sack of Rome (1527).

Starting with Filippo Colonna (1578–1639) many changes have refurbished and create a unitary complex around a central garden. Architects including Girolamo Rainaldi and Paolo Marucelli labored on specific projects. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries were the main facades completed. Much of this design was completed by Antonio del Grande (including the grand gallery), and Girolamo Fontana (decoration of gallery). In the 18th century, the long low facade designed by Nicola Michetti with later additions by Paolo Posi with taller corner blocks (facing Piazza Apostoli) was constructed recalls earlier structures resembling a fortification.

The main gallery (completed 1703) and the masterful Colonna art collection was acquired after 1650 by both the cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew the Connestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and includes works by Lorenzo Monaco, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Palma the Elder, Salviati, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Annibale Carracci (painting of The Beaneater), Guercino, Francesco Albani, Muziano and Guido Reni. Ceiling frescoes by Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari celebrate the role of Marcantonio II Colonna in the battle of Lepanto (1571). The gallery is open to the public on Saturday mornings.

The older wing of the complex known as the Princess Isabelle"s apartments, but once housing Martin V"s library and palace, contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, Antonio Tempesta, Crescenzio Onofri, Giacinto Gimignani, and Carlo Cesi. It contains a collection of landscapes and genre scenes by painters like Gaspard Dughet, Caspar Van Wittel (Vanvitelli), and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Along with the possessions of the Doria-Pamphilij and Pallavacini-Rospigliosi families, this is one of the largest private art collections in Rome.