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Alcalá de Henares (Municipality, Community of Madrid, Spain)

Last modified: 2016-05-14 by ivan sache
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Flag of Alcalá de Henares - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 June 2015


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Presentation of Alcalá de Henares

The municipality of Alcalá de Henares (00,768 inhabitants in 2014, therefore the 3rd most populated municipality in the Community; 8,772 ha; municipal website) is located in the east of the Community of Madrid, 30 km of Madrid and 30 km of Guadalajara.

Alcalá is located on the banks of river Henares, a place settled since the prehistoric times. During the Second Age of Iron, an organized settlement was established on the top of the San Juan del Viso hill. Local legends claim that this town, called Iplacea, had been founded by exiled Trojans. The town, controlling access to the valleys of Duero, Ebro and Tagus and strongly fortified, resisted in 195 BC to the Roman Consul Cato and in 193 BC to the Praetor Fulvius Nobilior.
After the conquest, the Romans organized on the hill the town of Complutum, listed by Pliny as an autonomous entity paying tax to Rome; in 74, Emperor Vespasian granted the municipal status to several towns in Hispania, Complutum included. The new municipal authorities were allowed to relocate Complutum down to the valley of Henares, on the road that connected Caesar Augusta (Zaragoza) and Augusta Emerita (Mérida), which allowed the town to increase its area to 50 ha. Big public buildings were erected, such as a basilica, a forum and thermae. The forum was revamped in the 3rd century "to stay forever", as mentioned on an epigraphic writing, with the addition of a monumental facade, a cryptoporticus, new administrative buildings and brand new thermae. In the 5th century, the downtown was moved to the area known as Campo Laudable, where Sts. Justus and Pastor, the town's patron saints, were martyred, according to the tradition, in 306.
The location of Complutum has been known since the 19th century. In the 1970s, the urbanization of Alcalá required emergency excavations, which yielded several mosaics, for which the houses were they were originally located were named (Bacchus' House, Leda's House, Cupid's House, the Eagles' House); those mosaics are now shown in the Regional Archeological Museum of the Community of Madrid.

After the reconquest of the town in 1118 by Bernard de Sedirac, Archbishop of Toledo, the old town of Alcalá was progressively deserted. The town and its villages were granted in 1129 to the Archbishop of Toledo; Raymond de Sauvetat chartered the town in 1135.
The medieval town developed around the Sts. Just and Pastor church. Christian, Jews and Muslims lived in harmony in different boroughs of the town, whose main source of income was trade. In the early 13th century, the Archbishops erected a palace and surrounded the town with walls. Privileged by the Archbishops and the Kings of Castile, Alcalá became one of the most affluent towns in the crown of Castile. In 1293, King Sancho IV and Gonzalo García Gudiel founded the General Studies, the root of the subsequent university. Alcalá was among the preferred residences of the Catholic Monarchs, whose daughter Catherine of Aragón was borne in the town in 1485, and who met there Christopher Colombus for the first time in 1486.

The University of Alcalá (website) was authorized by a Bull signed in 1409 by Pope Alexander VI. Founded by Cardinal Cisneros (1436-1517; appointed Archbishop of Toledo in 1495), the university started classes in 1508. A symbol of the spirit of the Renaissance, the university hired noted humanists, such as Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522) and Demetrios Doukas of Crete (c. 1480- c. 1527); among the early alumni of the university is St. Thomas of Villanova (1488-1555, canonized on 1 November 1658 by Pope Alexander VII). Short before his death, Cisneros validated the publication of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, considered as the first scientific work released in Christian Spain. At the time, the University of Alcalá was the most advanced and pluralist university in Europe. Cisneros commissioned the architect Pedro Gumiel to design a brand new university city, the first ever planned as such and the model of several subsequent universities in Europe and in the Americas.
In the 16th-17th centuries, several colleges were established within the university by the king, by religious orders and by noble families. During the Spanish Gilded Age, Alcalá was known as the City of Knowledge, often considered as the parallel on earth of St. Augustine's City of God. The university educated the religious, political, artistic and scientific Spanish elite, to name a few, the writers Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645), Lope de Vega (1562-1635), Mateo Alemán (1547-1614) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), and Sts. John of the Cross (1542-1591), Francis Caracciolo (1563-1608), Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1566) and Joseph Calasanz (1557-1648).
The University and historic precinct of Alcalá de Henares were inscribed on 2 December 1998 on the UNESCO World Heritage List (notice). Alcalá de Henares is also the proud birth town of the writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

Ivan Sache, 26 June 2015


Symbols of Alcalá de Henares

The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) and arms of Alcalá de Henares are prescribed by a Decree adopted on 5 March 1987 by the Government of the Community of Madrid and published on 17 March 1987 in the official gazette of the Community of Madrid, No. 64, p. 3 (text), and on 3 April 1987 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 80, p. 9,914 (text).
The symbols are described as follows:

Flag: Rectangular flag, in proportions 2:3. On a red field, at a distance of one half of the flag's length from the hoist is placed the coat of arms of the town of Alcalá de Henares
Coat of arms: Azure a castle or masoned sable on waves argent and azure. The shield surrounded by two branches of laurel vert fructed gules and of oak vert fructed proper. The shield surmounted by a crown of the Infantes of Castile.

The coat of arms is a kind of rebus of the name of the town, in Arab Al-Qalat Nahar, which means "the castle on river Henares".
[Unofficial website]

Ivan Sache, Blas Delgado and Santiago Dotor, 26 June 2015