University and Historic Precinct of Alcaláde Henares
University And Historic Precinct Of AlcaláDe Henares
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Cultural Spain Europe And North America Province And Autonomous Community Of Madrid

Alcaláde Henares was the first city to be designed and built solely as the seat of a university, and was to serve as the model for other centres of learning in Europe and the Americas. The concept of the ideal city, the City of God (Civitas Dei ), was first given material expression there, from where it was widely diffused throughout the world.

The Henares river valley has been settled by humankind since the Neolithic period. This strategic site in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula inevitably led to the establishment of a Roman town, Complutum. It was here that the child saints, Justus and Pastor, were martyred in AD 304, and their tomb outside the walls of the Roman town became a sanctuary round which the present historic centre developed. It was an Episcopal See during the Visigothic period, and became part of the Emirate of Cordoba when the Moors overran most of Spain;a fortress known as Al-Qal'at was built, and a small settlement grew up.

After it was recaptured in 1118, the territory of Alcaláwas granted to the Archbishopric of Toledo;the city expanded and the medieval fortified settlement took shape with the Archbishop's Palace at its centre. To the south was the Christian quarter, with its church, the Jewish quarter lay to the east, with the Arab quarter to the north. During the late 15th century, the urban core expanded with the construction outside the walls of the Franciscan Convent of San Diego, which attracted settlement around it. Following an attack by the King of Navarre a new, stronger wall was built to enclose the areas of expansion to the south and east. The town prospered until 1496, when the Jews were expelled from Spain by royal edict, taking with them their commercial activities. However, the urban fabric remained intact, making possible the creation of a new university city. Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros began by founding the Colegio de San Ildefonso, at the present in the heart of the university city. It was built in 1537-53 by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, one of the greatest masters of the Plateresque style, and is notable for its grand facade, which symbolizes in its elaborate decoration the harmonious conjuncture of the Christian religion, of learning, and of imperial power.

Unlike other university cities in Europe, Alcaláde Henares did not develop slowly, adapting itself to its urban surroundings. From the start it was conceived by Cisneros as an entity, which took over a partly abandoned medieval town and converted it into a city whose function was solely that of a university. This involved the creation of houses to lodge professors and students and the provision of services such as a sewer system and paved streets. The little Chapel of St Justus was rebuilt as a church and given the title 'Magistral'. More centres of learning were added progressively: there were eventually to be 25 Colegios Menores, while eight large monasteries were also colleges of the university.

The primary objective of the university was to train administrators for the Church and for the Spanish Empire. The Complutense Polyglot Bible (1514-17) illustrates the type of work that began in Alcalá: a masterpiece of typography, it took ten years to complete and established the bases of modern linguistic analysis as well as the accepted structure for dictionaries. This work was supported by that of Antonio de Nebrija, author of the first European grammar of a Romance language, published in 1492, which was to be the model for similar grammars in many European and Native American languages. From the mid-17th century, however, the number of students, estimated to have been over 12,000 in the 16th century, begin to decline in favour of Madrid, where the Church had begun to establish university colleges and convents on the Alcalámodel. In 1836 the university was transferred to Madrid, where it survives today under the title of the Complutense University of Madrid. In 1974 the university established a School of Economics in Alcalá, and the present University of Alcaláde Henares was inaugurated.

The University Precinct begins at the Plaza Cervantes and extends to the east of the medieval city. It was enclosed by demolishing part of the earlier medieval walls and prolonging them round the new urban development. The walled medieval precinct has the Iglesia Magistral (cathedral), a Gothic structure, at its core, from which the street network radiates, merging into the former Jewish and Arab quarters. To the north-west is the ecclesiastical precinct, surrounded by its own walls;at its heart is the Archbishop's Palace.

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