The historical centre of Alcalá de Henares is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, and although cars and bikes may have taken over the many winding cobbled streets, the city remains essentially medieval with its beautiful historic architecture. The Plaza de Cervantes is the centre of the town, lying at the centre of the Calle Mayor. Although predominantly Christian, the city is famous for its distinct Christian quarter, Jewish quarter and Moorish quarter.
Among the more important historical edifices is the Cathedral de los Santos Niños in Santos Niños Square and its university that has gained international fame for its Spanish studies department. Formerly called the Universidad Complutense, founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1496 (one of the most important streets in the city – the Calle del Cardenal Cisneros is named after him), it is today called the Universidad de Alcala and occupies many of the old buildings that have been restored to their old glory. In fact, the chapel at the university has a monument dedicated to Cardinal Cisneros.
The Cathedral, built in a distinct Gothic style, houses the remains of Saints Justus and Pastor, two young saints martyred at the beginning of the fourth century and is one of only two churches in the world to be granted the special title “Magistral”, reflecting its former status as a Collegiate Church.
The renowned writer Miguel de Cervantes, known for his stories of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, was born in Alcala and baptised there. The house is located on the Calle Imagen and the sculptures on Don Quixote and Sancho seated on a bench are a great draw amongst visitors.
The city is also well-known for its resident population of white storks, who really large nests occupy the high points of the city’s many churches and historic buildings, making the city also a popular destination for bird-watchers. The storks are protected by law and the city takes pains to protect and maintain the nests of this stately birds.