The birth house of Cervantes
After the bible, Don Quixote is the highest selling book in the world. Born in Alcalá de Henares, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the book at the beginning of the 17th century in 2 parts, immortalizing the errant knight and his brave servant Sancho Panza. And the rest is history: the city square is named after him and the Plaza de Cervantes features an impressive statue of the writer. The local tourist office offers a walking route along Cervantes’ baptismal font, the hospital where his father worked as a surgeon and his sister’s Carmelite convent. But the biggest attraction is his birth house, the place where Cervantes was born in 1547. Only the original foundations remain; the rest of the house has been reconstructed and furnished with authentic period furniture. An exhibit tells the life history of the writer and the gift shop sells ‘Don Quixote’ in every imaginable language. But you won’t find Cervantes’ favourite library or bodega in Alcalá; he only spent the first 4 years of his life here.
The 15th-century Universidad Complutense
The most influential university in the world
The Cervantes tour may be short and sweet, but the town holds one more trump card. The 15th-century Universidad Complutense was once one of the most important universities in the world, and has earned Alcalá de Henares an entry on the World Heritage list. A guided tour takes visitors to the beautiful chapel built in Mudejar style and the grand salon where the Spanish King presents the yearly prestigious Cervantes literary award on the anniversary of Cervantes’ death. Enjoy a pleasant picnic underneath the orange trees amid the Renaissance buildings. Real Cervantes fans will plan their visit to Alcalá de Henares around 9 October, the day he was baptised. This is when the city celebrates the week-long ‘Semana Cervantina’ with lectures, theatre performances, concerts, a medieval market and culinary festival. See www.semanacervantina.com (Spanish).