If you are in Alcala de Henares and you only have time to visit one place, you should visit Colegio de San Ildefonso, the main building of University of Alcala.
I think every ‘alcalaino’ or person who has grown up in Alcala de Henares, is proud of its University, at least we are. Why is this? There are four main reasons that I’m going to explain you.
The University-City of Alcala de Henares
The first reason is that Alcala wouldn’t be the city it is without it.
The foundation of Universidad Complutense in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros changed the History of Alcala forever. It was one of the first universities in the country, which is a source of pride, but Cisneros who was a renaissance man had bigger plans for it.
On the one hand, he didn’t wanted just an institution, he wanted the best, so that he had the best humanist in the country teach in it. On the other hand, he didn’t wanted just a building, he wanted a University-City and he planned everything. The size of Alcala was doubled along two new streets, Calle Libreros and Calle Colegios. The new colleges for students of different areas of study were built on both sides of those streets.
Thanks to Cisneros, the messy medieval Alcala became a tidy Renaissance City, and that is the city center we can enjoy today.
The Co-owners’ Institution saved Colegio de San Ildefonso
As the time went by, especially when Madrid became the capital of the country, it was showered with attention and got every important institution in the country.
The University of Alcala, called Universidad Complutense was sadly transferred to Madrid in 1836, and Alcala remained empty. Try to imagine that half of the buildings in Alcala had been Colleges, and they had no use in that moment.
In 1851 the main building was going to be sold at auction, and probably an american rich man like William Randolph Hearst would have bought it and taken it to USA. (You don’t believe this? Check this out). Then, the most amazing thing happened: a group of citizens of Alcalá decided to collect the money and buy it. They created the Co-owners’ Institution (Sociedad de Condueños), and it kept buying buildings and saving them from evil hands.
It’s the second reason that makes Alcalainos proud of the University, the luck of having a Co-owners’ Institution, which owns this building and saved it from destruction. Cool, isn’t it?
Colegio de San Ildefonso, a piece of the Spanish Renaissance
The third reason is the importance of the building itself. In 1998 the UNESCO declared the city center World Heritage Site; the city planned by Cisneros. The main building, Colegio de San Ildefonso, is in every guide of the Spanish Renaissance and is highly valued by the experts.
Student life in Alcala de Henares
And finally, Alcala is and has always been a city of college students.
The city was empty without Universidad Complutense, as I said, so we had to make up a new University to fill its place; Universidad de Alcala de Henares. This is a modern institution using the old buildings.
Everybody who lives in Alcala has a relation with the University somehow. In 2014 you can appreciate the amount of students who live in here, Spaniards and foreigners; they are the ones who make this city alive.
In the past lots of personalities were in Alcalá, as students or teachers: Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Mateo Alemán, Calderón de la Barca, Fray Luis de León, St. John of the cross, St. Thomas of Villanova, St. Francis Caracciolo, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Joseph Calasanctius, Juan de Vergara, Bartolomé Carranza, Alfonso de Valdés, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, Antonio Pérez, Francisco de Figueroa, Jerónimo de Zurita, Ambrosio de Morales, Hervás y Panduro, Divino Vallés, Andreas Vesalius, Benito Arias Montano o Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, even Miguel de Cervantes, the father of Spanish literature.
With this vast heritage, how can you leave Alcalá without visiting Colegio de San Ildefonso?
My advise, do it on weekdays because it is a public building and you can visit it for free, just go inside. If you are interested in a guided visit, it will cost you 4 euros.
I hope you enjoy this post and start to appreciate our heritage.
What are the best places to visit in Alcala de Henares? These are our favourites!