domingo, 29 de enero de 2012

Raising Awareness in Alcala de Henares

This month’s running tour will be of the World Heritage City (UNESCO) of Alcala de Henares, one of Europe's most ancient university towns and known for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. It is located about 30kms from Madrid. I chose Alcala de Henares because it’s a town I know fairly well since it is where I lived all of last year while I was working on completing my masters degree at Universidad de Alcala de Henares. It is also a town with a very unique cultural life that I hope you can enjoy through my blog!
My run is outlined in the map to the right and was approximately a 5km run. I started at the Cercanias-Renfe Railway Station, passed through Plaza de Cervantes, Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso, Calle Mayor, Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes, the Cathedral of los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor de Alcalá de Henares, Puerta de Madrid, Palacio Arzobispal, Museo de Arqueología, Palacete Laredo (Centro Internacional de Estudios Históricos Cisneros), and finally back at the train station.
I usually take the Cercanias Railway Station from Atocha to go to the University of Alcala on weekdays but if you take it on a weekend between April and December you could enjoy a trip on the “Cervantes Train”, where people dressed in Golden Age costumes provide delicious and typical food of the city. The picture below is not a picture from my run but about a year ago I had the opportunity to run into Don Quijote and Sancho Panza  as they were on their way to Alcala de Henares and the performance is really quite impressive.
As I left the train station I made my way down to Calle de Libreros where Cervantes’s first published work, La Galatea, was printed. This street takes me straight to Plaza de Cervantes:
The Cervantes Square is the core of the city and was originally known as a Market Square used for the weekly market, bullfightings and important public festivals. In the middle of the square there is a monument to Cervantes created by Carlo Nicoli in 1879.
Halfway down the Cervantes Square I turned left towards Plaza de San Diego to admire the magnificent 16th century plateresque façade of the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso (University of Alcala)  

Under Cardinal Cisneros, this school was granted full university status in 1499, which makes it one of the oldest universities in the world, and was originally named "Universitas Complutensis". Five faculties were then established: Arts and Philosophy, Theology, Canon Law, Philology and Medicine. In 1836, the University was moved to Madrid, and some of the buildings of the former Alcala campus fell into disrepair. The impact of the move on the city of Alcala de Henares was very deeply felt: the population went from about 60,000 people to about 10,000 by 1900. In 1977, the University was reopened in its same historical buildings. The University of Alcalá is especially renowned in the Spanish-speaking world for its annual presentation of the highly prestigious Cervantes Prize, which is awarded annually by the King and Queen of Spain in the Paraninfo (Great Hall).
I circled around Plaza de San Diego and back out to Plaza de Cervantes where I made my way around to Calle Mayor:
Calle Mayor connects the Plaza de Cervantes with the Plaza de los Santos Niños, where you'll find the Cathedral of Alcala. It used to run through a Jewish neighborhood and for a while it was the city's most important commercial strip. Today, you'll still find different shops and restaurants on both sides of the street, but stands out the most about Calle Mayor is the beautiful architecture, thanks to the numerous half-timbered houses and flowery balconies. Another interesting aspect of the houses on Calle Mayor, as you can see from the picture on the left, is that the water pipes are decorated at the tip with a design of a dragon head.  

As I ran down Calle Mayor, right in front of the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes, I came across the statue of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza:

The statue welcomes you to sit and take a picture with them!!! It is a MUST take picture if you ever visit Alcala de Henares. It's a masterpiece from Pedro Requejo, placed in Alcala on April 24, 2005 as part of the "Actos conmemorativos del cuarto centenario de la edición del Quijote".

Behind the statue is the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes:

It is an old 16th century house that belongs to Cervantes's family and is claimed to be where Cervantes was born in 1547. The museum was founded in his honor and recreates a house of that time, furnished with genuine sixteenth-century objects and contains a small museum with a few early editions of Don Quixote and other curiosities related to the author. 
As I continued down Calle Mayor I made it to the Plaza de los Santos Niños where I came across with the Cathedral of Los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor de Alcalá de Henares

The Cathedral is located next to the Santos Niños Square and was built on the site where the children from Alcalá, Justo and Pastor, were said to have been martyred. Justus, 13 years old, and Pastor, less than 9 years old, were two schoolboys who were killed for their faith during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. It is also the only Gothic-style cathedral that can be seen in the entire Comunidad de Madrid. 

Just a few meters ahead was the Puerta de Madrid:

La Puerta de Madrid was built in 1788 under the orders of the Archbishop of Toledo to replace an old gate from the walled area. As well as the Puerta de Alcalá, mentioned in my previous blog, this gate is a neo-classical monument built in stone which connects the city of Alcalá de Henares with the city of Madrid.  

Next stop was at Palacio Arzobispal:

The Toledo Archbishop Palace and the Walled Area were created as a defensive fortress in the 14th century that surrounded the city. This is the place where Katherine of Argon, the first wife of King Henry VIII of England and mother of Queen Mary I, was born in December 1485. Also, the Palacio Arzobispal is where Christopher Columbus first met with the King and Queen of Spain, in 1486, to convince them he could reach Asia by sailing around the world. 

The next stop was in front of Museo de Arqueología:

The museum is situated in the former Convent-College de Dominicos de la Madre de Dios which was built at the end of the 17th century. It is composed of the most important archaeological remains of the Community of Madrid. The Roman mosaics are especially well-known because they come from Alcala.

On my way back to the train station I passed by a modern statue of Don Quijote that is on one of the roundabouts of the town, as well as, a quaint little house surrounded by tall apartment buldings that doesnt quite seem to fit in but worth a picture:

I also passed by Palacio Laredo:

And finally a picture of the monument dedicated to the vistims of the 11M - March 2004 Madrid Bombings:
During the peak of Madrid rush hour on the morning of Thursday, 11 March 2004, ten explosions occurred aboard four commuter trains (cercanías). The date led to the popular abbreviation of the incident as “11-M”. All the affected trains were traveling on the same line and in the same direction between Alcalá de Henares and the Atocha station in Madrid.
The attack occurred on the morning of 11 March 2004, three days before Spain's general elections. The explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. The attacks are believed to be directed by an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist.

The very last stop was back at the Cercanias-Renfe Railway Station to head back home to Madrid:

And this concludes my running tour of the city of Alcala de Henares! The historical information for this blog was a compilation of information from a handful of websites including: and which you can check out for more information.

Thanks to all my supporters that are following my training on Twitter! Thanks to Fernando Herranz and Angelica Valderrama for completing this route with me and helping me out with the pictures. And thanks to Chris McCoy my running partner throughout the month:

If you have enjoyed my blog and believe in my cause, please help me meet my goal of raising $3000 by clicking on the link above. Donations made to my cause go directly to the non-profit organization 'To Write Love on Her Arms'. The money rasied through this organization is used to support treatment and recovery for people suffering depression, addiction, self injury and considering suicide as well as to create events and awareness. Their finances can be viewed at:

And most importantly . . . Don't forget to visit the Race4Awareness page and tell us if you are aware about Suicide.

Tommy I lit a candle for you at the Alcala de Henares Cathedral. Your family is always praying for you. Miss you!