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Tuesday, October 09, 2012 (read 779 times)

Madrid: Alcalá de Henares

by Seun

On the easternmost boundary of the Comunidad de Madrid, on the River Henares some 31km from Madrid, lies Alcalá de Henares, a truly historic city. Whilst some archaeologists date the settlement back to a very uncertain date during the Iron Age, what we are certain of is that the Romans, in their time, came, saw, and conquered the site. With the arrival of the Moors on the Peninsula in 711, Alcalá was taken into their hands until, at the beginning of the 12th century, it was restored to Castilla. The city, during the Middle Ages enjoyed vast edification, including the raising of a university in the city in 1499. Despite a fall from opulence and prosperity during the 19th century, which saw the relocation of the university to Madrid, the city today is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the eventful history that has passed through the city over the past millennia manifests itself in the city’s museums, monuments and archaeological sites.

Alcalá de Henares in the 1st century BC played host to the Romans who, finding the land fertile and well served by the river, built there homes in that place under the name of Complutum. Discussion continues on the etymology of that name which, on one hand may be derived from the Latin for ‘the union of waters’ – a name which might refer to the joining of the River Torote and the River Henares just outside the city, – but also seems to be the Romanisation of the Celtiberian name for the city, Kombouto; the Celtiberians having previously occupied the site, possibly since the Iron Age. Outlasting the Roman Empire itself is the remain of a Roman villa at modern day Alcalá de Henares known as the Casa de Hippolytus because of the artist’s lasting signature on a mosaic at the villa.

Such is the early history of Alcalá de Henares: so varied and active, and yet so consistently occupied. Before the unification of Spain, the Arabs spent a brief spell at the city before its re-conquering in 1118 by Bernardo de Sedirac, Archbishop of Toledo. Nevertheless, after an expansive list of names for the city through its history, the actual name of Alcalá de Henares is left to us by that Moorish rule and is the Arabic for ‘Castle on the river’. A slightly less well known destination although certainly a uniquely rich one, and in such proximity to Madrid, Alcalá de Henares should be on all ‘cities-to-visit’ lists.

Imagen by Ferlomu

Keywords: madrid,alcala de henares,alcala,unesco world heritage site,what to see in madrid

Posted In: Travel, Spain, Tourism, Culture


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