Brief history of the city of Alcalá de Henares
The City of Alcalá de Henares is in the Autonomous Region of Madrid, 30 km from Madrid on the Madrid-Barcelona motorway and 15 km from Madrid’s international Adolfo Suarez-Barajas Airport. At present it has a population of over 200,000.



Important archaeological remains have been found in Alcalá de Henares and stand as testimony to the presence in the city of different peoples and cultures. The first town on the site was the ancient Celtiberan settlement of Ikesankom Kombouto.

But it was with the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century BC that a remarkable city was founded, which they called Complutum, the origin of the name currently given to those born in the city, Complutenses.

When the Muslims took the city, they moved the urban centre to the hills on the left bank of the river Henares, making it a natural frontier against Christian attacks from the north. The current name of the city comes from the Arabic word al-qal'at Nahar, "The castle" or fortress on the Henares, as when the Andalusians moved the city centre, they built a walled enclosure annexed to it, of which the ruins are still quite degraded.


Once reconquered by the Christians in 1118, King Alfonso VII of Castile ceded Alcalá and its lands to the archbishops of Toledo, who built an important castle that would later become the Archbishop's Palace, where monarchs and nobles resided. The palace was the birthplace of the German Emperor Fernando, Juana I "The Mad"´s son, and the Queen of England, Catatalina of Aragon. It was also the scene of the first meeting between Christopher Columbus and the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, to organise what was to be their future voyage that led to the discovery of America.




Alcalá de Henares reached the height of its glory at the end of the 15th century, when Cardinal Cisneros founded the Complutense University in 1499. It was soon to become one of the main centres of European Renaissance culture.

As construction work intensified under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, the city was transformed into a unique cultural model that would serve as a blueprint for Spanish urban planning in the Modern Age. Its main building was the Colegio de San Ildefonso, which boasts an admirable Plateresque façade.


During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the city underwent a progressive decline which meant the University’s relocation to Madrid.

It was not until 1977 that the University of Alcalá as we know it today came into being, in the process recovering and restoring the old college buildings so that they might once again perform their original function of centres for teaching and research.

Alcalá de Henares was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998, in recognition of the fact that Alcalá is the best and most developed model of Renaissance town-planning, education and culture.



Alcalá de Henares is also the birthplace of one of Spanish literature’s greatest writers. Miguel de Cervantes was born in the city in 1547. He is universally renowned for his novel El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), considered by many to be the first modern novel and one of the great works of literature.

The Cervantes Institute was created in his honour as a public institution designed to promote and teach the Spanish language and to disseminate Spanish and Latin American culture. 


The link between the city and the Spanish language became even closer with the establishment in 1976 of the Cervantes Prize for Spanish Literature which is awarded annually in the Paraninfo or Great Hall of the University. This prize is the most important award for creative writing in the Spanish language.

The typical gastronomy of Alcalá de Henares includes dishes typical of Castilian-La Mancha cuisine, such as migas with chorizo sausage and garlic soup. Among the confectionery, the typical "rosquillas alcalaínas", "costrada" and "almendras garrapiñadas" (sugar-coated almonds) stand out.

Alcalá is also famous for the tapas that many of its bars offer with a drink, a tradition and custom that is deeply rooted in many of its establishments.

Cultural events include the Festival de la Palabra, held on the occasion of the Cervantes Prize (April), the Classical Theatre Festival (June), the Medieval Market (October) and the performance of Don Juan Tenorio (end of October).

Mercado medieval de Alcalá de Henares

Medieval market in the Main Street of Alcalá de Henares

Don Juan Tenorio Alcalá de Henares

Performance of Don Juan Tenorio

Among the city’s monuments, particularly worth a visit are the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso, also known as the “Old University”, the Cathedral, the Palacio Arzobispal, the Miguel de Cervantes Birthplace Museum, the Calle MayorPlaza de Cervantes and the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Complutum. All that, together with a wide range of hotels, eateries and leisure activities has made the city an emerging tourist destination, well positioned in the Spanish context of cultural tourism and congresses.

You can find more information about the tourist and cultural offer of Alcalá de Henares on the following websites


Places to visit

Old University of Alcalá – Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso


Founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499, the original foundation included a "Colegio Mayor", or main residential college, with a number of other satellite "Colegios Menores". The institution was transferred to Madrid in 1836 and returned to Alcalá de Henares in 1977. 

The main façade, in the Plateresque style, dates back to 1553 and is the work of Gil de Hontañón. The building houses several courtyards or quadrangles, the most notable being the "Patio de Santo Tomás de Villanueva" (Courtyard of St Thomas of Villanueva), in the Herrerian style, and the "Patio Trilingüe" (Trilingual Courtyard), where Latin, Greek and Hebrew were taught. 

The "Paraninfo", located in the old University's Main Hall, was built around 1520 and has an impressive Mudejar coffered ceiling and walls adorned with Plateresque plasterwork.

Paraninfo de la Universidad de Alcalá

Capilla_San_Ildefonso San Ildefonso's Chapel, the oldest building in the original University complex, is very similar to the Paraninfo in its decoration. Most striking are its Mudejar covered ceiling and its Gothic and Plateresque plastered walls. It was built in the 16th century to house the tomb of Cardinal Cisneros. The tomb was sculpted in Carrara marble by Domenico Fancelli and Bartolomé Ordóñez. The newly restored Chapel has been reopened recently.

Cathedral - Iglesia Magistral

Orders were given for it to be built by Cardinal Cisneros at the end of the 15th century, at the place where, according to tradition, the Holy Children, Justo and Pastor, were martyred. This late Gothic building consists of three naves with groined vaulting, lancet arches and an ambulatory. The Magisterial Church is, together with St Peter's of Louvain (Belgium), one of only two churches in the world to boast the title, which the Pope grants to churches with university professors among their canons. The bell tower dominates the Cathedral's exterior.



Archbishop’s Palace - Palacio Arzobispal

Built by the bishops of Toledo as a fortress during the 14th and 15th centuries, it was turned into a palace by bishops Fonseca and Talavera in the 16th century. The main façade dates back to this time. At the end of the 19th century it was thoroughly renovated by Manuel Laredo, who was inspired by the neo-Gothic and neo-Mudejar styles.

Convento_San_Bernardo Convent of St. Bernardo

Founded in 1618 by Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval for the nuns of the Cistercian Order, this is one of the nine enclosed convents that still remain in Alcalá de Henares. The austere main façade of brick is only relieved by its three stone doorways. The chapel's elliptical floor-plan is covered by a great oval dome and opens onto six side chapels. Instead of the more usual altarpiece, the church has a rather curious "four face canopy", which allows four masses to be celebrated at the same time. 



In the eastern part of Alcalá, the remains of Roman "Complutum" can be found, including a forum with a basilica and hot baths, as well as numerous villas in the surrounding areas.


Cervantes’ Birthplace and Museum

An example of the 16th century Castilian housing, it witnessed the birth and early childhood of Miguel de Cervantes. The house is built around a courtyard with a two-floor portico. The lower floor was devoted to the family´s daily life, while the private rooms and bedrooms are to found on the upper floor.



Hospital de Antezana

The oldest working medical institution in Spain, it was founded in 1483 by Luis de Antezana and his wife, Isabel de Guzmán, in order to give free medical attention to people of humble origin. This work is still being carried on today.

The building is a typical two-storey Castilian house with a courtyard and a balcony supported by pillars on the top floor. It still retains an impressive collection of rooms with carved ceilings and their original structures dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The Mudejar gables are a key element in the building's neo-Gothic façade.

Cervantes’ Square - Plaza de Cervantes

The main square of Alcalá de Henares dates from before the 13th century when it held a weekly market as well as important civic events. The bronze monument to Miguel de Cervantes at the centre gives the square its name. The bandstand and the Santa Maria Tower are two other monuments of interest. Surrounded by countless shops, restaurants and bars, this square is the hub of the city' social life, and also political since it is the site of the Town Hall.




Organised by:

The Bioelectrochemical Society Universidad de Alcalá
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid



Sponsored by:



Metrohm Dropsens

CGTbA-RSEQ Real Sociedad Española de Química Grupo Especializado de Electroquímica Elsevier Bioeletrochemistry Journal