Very close to Madrid one of the most prestigious universities in Spain was founded at the beginning of the 16th century. But in addition to its academic value, the University of Alcalá de Henares is a monument in itself, as it is an excellent example of Renaissance architectureand more specifically the Cisneros Style, which owes its name to Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros, the real promoter of this educational center. That on the other hand can be considered the first university city that was planned in the world.
Facade of the University of Alcalá de Henares
In fact, everything was created here from scratch and revolved around the University. A model inspired by the so-called City of God or Civitas Dei, whose pattern was established in Alcalá de Henares and from here served as inspiration for other places in Europe. And above all, it was an ideal model that the Spanish missionaries wanted to imitate in many of their communities promoted in the American continent.
Architecturally and artistically speaking, of the entire Alcalá complex, there are several elements that attract attention in a special way.
One of them is the main facade of the University. A paradigmatic construction of Spanish architecture from the beginning of the 16th century, when the influence of Renaissance forms had already arrived, but approachestypical of gothic art. And that is one of the characteristics of the so-called Cisneros Style.
In this case we are dealing with a work designed by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. He composed a facade from three modules, a central one with three floors, and two lateral ones with only two heights. And there is also the triangular pediment that evokes ancient architecture and that also highlights the monumental portal, in which the different classical orders are superimposed.
It is also necessary to highlight the presence of the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso, the true seed of the whole complex. This building has a different typology from other colleges of previous universities. All of it was organized around two consecutive cloisters. And around them all the dependencies of the institution were arranged, including offices and warehouses, but also a chapel dedicated to San Ildefonso, the Paraninfo and the Scholastic Theater.
And it is in the ornamentation of all these rooms where the survival of elements of Spanish medieval art is best manifested, resorting to forms that recall the Gothic, but also theMudejar art. As we said before, something that is typical of the Cisneros Style, which has its best expression here. And although there are other works inspired by this same style and promoted by the same character, as happens inside the Catedral de Toledo, the truth is that the work with which he most identified this mighty cardinal was the Universityalcalaína, whose development he followed from start to finish. And not only that, but he is even buried here in the Chapel of San Ildefonso.