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

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Cesis Castle

German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.

In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).

In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.

Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.