After looking for a place to park the car for 12 minutes, I left the car and I went off on foot towards the centre with a relative who is living in Alcalá de Henares. The town centre has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1998.
Our first stop, at 10:30 almost sharp was the Palacete Laredo, a small palace built in the Neo-Mudéjar style, a type of Moorish Revival architecture. It was designed and built between 1880 and 1884 by the Spanish artist Manuel José de Laredo y Ordoño. After a century in private hands, it passed to the town hall, which allows the university to use it as a museum, showing a collection of ancient documents.
The palace is built in brick, it has two floors and a minaret-like tower. The inside is decorated with coloured-glass window, tiles and paintings. The visible ceilings on the first floor are wooden artesonado (decorative beams joined together). There is also a garden, but it was closed.
Afterwards, we headed off towards the centre. We walked by the church Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor and is inhabitant the stork on photo duty.
We had tickets to see the Corral de Comedias, a theatre built in the site of an ancient “theatrical courtyard”. These were open-air theatres that were common during the late middle ages and exploded in popularity in the 16th century. The Corral in Alcalá de Henares was built in 1601 by Francisco Sánchez, member of the Carpenters Guild. It suffered several changes – the ceiling was built in the 18th century, then it became a cinema, and eventually was “lost” in the 1970s. In the 1980s, it was rediscovered, restored, and finally opened as working theatre in 2003.
Alas, we were too late for the 12:00 visit to the university, so we wandered around the town’s main square Plaza de Cervantes – Alcalá de Henares was Cervantes’ birthplace. Miguel de Cervantes was a 16th century Spanish writer, most renown for his novel “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”, which many authors consider “the first modern novel” and “the best literary work ever written” (though… I disagree). The square features a bandstand, the statue of Cervantes, and is surrounded by several buildings of importance – the ruins of the church Iglesia de Santa María, the Town Hall and the Círculo de Contribuyentes, former casino, and the Corral de Comedias.
Then we walked down Main Street Calle Mayor, until we got down to the Obispado de Alcalá de Henares, the bishopric, with two towers from the former wall at their sides. That reminds me – we did not visit the cathedral or any religious buildings because they were all closed to tourism.
At 13:00 we took the guided visit to one of the university buildings, the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso. The university was established in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, an influential Spanish religious and statesman in the time of the Catholic Monarchs. A colegio mayor is basically a dignified “classic” dormitory. The façade was built between 1537 and 1559 in the Plateresque style, an architectural style that developed in Spain between the late Gothic and the early Renaissance. The architect was Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón.
Inside, we saw the cloisters and yards, the gate of honour (from where the successful students left the university), the classroom where the students defended their final thesis, and the chapel, with the tomb of the founding Cardinal (but not his body, which is in the cathedral).
We had a reservation to have lunch at the Parador de Alcalá de Henares, which is a rather modern building and not a historical one, but a stamp was needed (≧▽≦). Lunch was a looong affair because our waiter might not have been the… most efficient. We tried the combos with a little bit of everything to share (entrées and desserts), and some bull tail. Oh and coffee. Yay coffee. (Also, kudos to me for cutting that nut in half.)
After lunch, we walked down the Calle Mayor again and we made a stop at what is supposed to be the house where Cervantes was born, or at least a reconstruction, with a bunch of ancient objects thrown in – the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes. There was also a photography exhibition. To be honest, it had a great quality-price relation. It was free, and the quality was… lacking. Or maybe I’m old and I have seen most of the stuff they showed in action, and used a few.
We continued on to the regional archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, located in the old Archiepiscopal palace. That was unexpectedly good, with the fossil record and the old Roman mosaics.
Pending for a future visit to Alcalá de Henares: Roman and Medieval areas, and the religious buildings, as the day finished up doing some necessary and work-related shopping before I drove back home.
Driven distance: Around an hour? I dumped the car as soon as I could and we walked the hell out of the town (≧▽≦)
Walked distance: 14.61 km