Alcala de Henares is exactly what its name is translated to, “a city on the river Henares”. With a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its centre, a history dating back to the Bronze Age and a significant place in Spanish architecture, it is also a tourist gem. More commonly known as just “Alcala”, it is the capital of the region and known for its national history and prestigious university. Alcala de Henares is located 35 kilometres north of Madrid, with a population of 200,000 people.
It is best to visit the University of Alcala to gain a feel for the atmosphere of the city, as this is its proudest monument. A symbol of ancient heritage and one of the first universities in the world, its impressive architecture dates back to the 13th century. Literature fans have the honour of visiting the hometown of the author Miguel de Cervantes where they can celebrate his birthday during an annual October festival, visit his statue, or attend a ceremony of the Cervantes Prize in April, the most prestigious Spanish award for lifetime achievement in literature. The narrow, quaint cobbled streets of the city are best for a spark of local culture by trying Spanish cuisine or relaxing in the central Cervantes Square. There is also an ancient Roman forum recently uncovered by archaeologists, in addition to the old public baths, markets, a basilica, and beautiful mosaics at the Regional Archaeology Museum.
With direct bus and train routes from Madrid Airport and the city centre, Alcala de Henares is straightforwardly accessible from the capital of Madrid, within only 35 minutes. Once inside Alcala de Henares, visitors can traverse the old town by foot, and the extended city area offers an Alcala-Bus service for low prices.
Alcala de Henares was once the only Roman town in the region. It was then solely a pilgrimage destination in remembrance of the Saints, Just us and Pastor, to whom the city Cathedral is devoted. The remains of the old castle on the outskirts of the city reveal the Moorish heritage of the area, who occupied the land in the 9th century. In recent history, the Spanish Civil War resulted in significant damage to the city. In amongst the ruins of various heritages, Alcala de Henares has established itself as a vibrant and diverse city full of rich stories rather than its destructive past.