Alcala de Henares has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 1998. As well as being where Cervantès was born, some 17 mi from Madrid, it is also famous for its university, which was founded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros. In fact, it was the first town in the world to have been built as a university town. This is where many of the famous names from Spain's Golden Century came to study, such as Lope de Vaga, and Ignacio de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. The tour of the university, with its splendid 16th century Renaissance facade, is very interesting and will provide you will many an amusing anecdote. Students take tourists on guided tours and they always do a terrific job. The chapel of San Ildefonso, which was finished in 1510, has a magnificent mujedar-style ceiling, combined with Renaissance stucco. This Franciscan place of worship also houses the marble cenotaph of the founder of the university, Cardinal Cisneros, buried in Magistrale Cathedral. The great amphitheatre, decorated with plaster mouldings and a Mujedar-style ceiling, is the place where the awards ceremony for the Cervantès Prize for literature is held every year. Despite being very close to Madrid, Alcala de Hénrares sees surprisingly little tourism.
Three cloisters have been preserved inside Colegio Mayor San Ildefonso: the Patio de Santo Tomas de Villanueva, that of the Philosophers and the Trilingual.© Age Fotostock