|Plaza de Cervantes|
|Café con leche & rosquilla de Alcalá|
The former campus of Spain’s premier university
Invigorated with caffeine, I moseyed on down to Alcalá’s central Plaza de Cervantes—more grand promenade than town square—and checked in to the palatial College of San Ildefonso, which once served as the main hall of the Complutense University. You can think of the Complutense as the Spanish counterpart to Oxford: an extremely-prestigious university with medieval roots that has played a major role in educating many of the country’s pre-eminent authors, thinkers, and politicians.
|Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso|
This move, however, left half a dozen or so monumental buildings abandoned and in danger of being sold off or demolished, so local alcalaínos formed the Sociedad de Condueños (“Joint-Ownership Association”) to pool their funds and purchase their town’s architectural heritage for the good of the community. Although the centuries-old institution that was the Complutense had left the buildings for good, in 1977 these exquisite late-Gothic and Renaissance gems gained a second lease on life when the University of Alcalá was founded: a brand-new school that would occupy the city’s historic campus.
|A town of many towers|
|I wasn’t supposed to take this picture…oops|
With this secondhand anxiety fresh on my mind, I welcomed the change of scenery when the tour moved on to the university chapel, a serene sanctuary decorated in intricate white plaster and topped with a darkly-stained wooden ceiling. As I listened to the tour guide explain the finer points of Plateresque architecture, I mentally added “insane doctoral defense” to Reasons I’m Glad I Wasn’t Born In 1490.
The Cervantes connection
|Gazebo in Plaza de Cervantes|
The author of Don Quixote gives his name to the town’s main square: bordered by houses that balance on soportales or arched covered walkways, this expansive public space is festooned with flower beds and crowned with a pretty wrought-iron bandstand. It’s also the epicenter for the town’s annual medieval market, a festival held a week or so after Cervantes’ date of birth.
|From Cervantes’ birthplace|
|Fun tilting-at-windmills mural|
In spite of this touristic cheesiness, Alcalá is where the Cervantes Prize is awarded every year, a prize that recognizes the achievements of the Spanish-speaking world’s greatest writers. Winners include such giants as Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, and Camilo José Cela.
How to get there
|Plaza de las Bernardas|
For tips on where to go out for tapas, check out Cassandra Gambill’s blog post for some great recommendations.
For more pictures, check out my album on Flickr.