A new university: Alcalá de Henares

Join us on a journey through the university that changed the educational model in Spain, and the last university that opened its doors to Nebrija.


Sculpture of Antonio de Nebrija by Nigues AnselmFundación Antonio de Nebrija

Elio Antonio de Nebrija

Antonio Martínez de Cala y Xarana (1441–1522) was the first Hispanic Humanist. Celebrated for his Castilian Grammar (1492), he introduced Italian Renaissance Humanism to the Iberian Peninsula in the early 1470s.

Cisneros and the Grandes (1864) by Victor Manzano y MejoradaOriginal Source: Prado Museum

Alcalá was home to a General Study (university studies) approved by King Sancho IV from as early as 1293. After being named archbishop in 1495, Cardenal Cisneros founded a completely novel educational project in 1499.

Exterior of the Complutense University in Alcala de Henares Madrid (1858) by Emilio AnceletOriginal Source: Prado Museum

This was a project that conciliated traditional models, such as the one in Salamanca, and some more innovative models, such as the one in Bologna. Cisneros wanted a university that not only taught the regular and secular clergy but also new, competent officials.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

Complutensis Universitas

The Universidad Complutense, or the Cisnerian University of Alcalá, was born here. Over the 16th and 17th centuries it turned into a grand center of academic excellence, serving as a model and basis for the new universities in America.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

Courtyard of Santo Tomás de Villanueva

Standing out due to its understated character and magnificence, the courtyard was constructed in 1618. Surrounding the courtyard we find various shaped pinnacles where the Latin phrase En luteam olim celebra marmorean (Before in clay, now in stone) can be made out

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija


With construction finishing by 1520, alongside the chapel, this is the only building remaining of the old university foundation. Though the Spanish name paraninfo has numerous etymologies, they coincide as the name given to someone who presented students before professors.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

The main hall is covered by a wooden frame, which is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful ceilings in Spanish art. The geometric pattern is a mesh of equilateral triangles that form regular hexagons and six-pointed stars, which fit together.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

On the walls we rediscover the names of some of the most illustrious figures who passed through the Universidad Complutense halls written in red Salamancan letters, like victors. Among them is Elio Antonio de Nebrija.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

Philosopher's Courtyard

In this courtyard we find the statue of Cisneros, José Vilches, which was restored and returned inside the university in 2007 before being placed in the Courtyard of Santo Tomás and later moved to the Plaza de San Diego.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

Chapel of San Ildefonso

This is the oldest enclave out of all the ones remaining at the university. Inside we find the church, with one nave and a salon room, built by architect Pedro Gumiel between 1510 and 1516. In the presbytery is the mausoleum of Cardenal Cisneros.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

In this complex lie old illustrious professors, such as Diego López de Zúñiga, Juan de Vergara, Demetrio Ducas, Fernando Pinciano, Alfonso de Zamora, Pablo Coronel, and Alonso de Alcalá.

Alcala de Henares University (14-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

The last years of Nebrija in Alcalá

Thanks to the generosity of Cardenal Cisneros, Nebrija joined the recently founded university as a professor of rhetoric in 1513. Nebrija therefore established himself permanently in Alcalá de Henares, the place where he spent the last years of his life.

Cardinal Cisneros (copy) (1878) by Matías Moreno GonzálezOriginal Source: Prado Museum

In a letter, Cisneros called upon the rector of the university to "treat him very well … and to read what he wants, and if he does not want to read he should not read; that this order was not given so that he should not work but that he should instead be paid what Spain owes him."

Tomb of Cardinal Cisneros in the church of San Ildefonso in Alcalá de Henares (1855) by Cecilio Pizarro y LibradoOriginal Source: Prado Museum

Remaining true to his commitment to knowledge, Antonio de Nebrija continued to work until his death, which occurred in Alcalá de Henares on July 2, 1522. As part of the custom of burying the most illustrious professors, his body now lies in the Chapel of San Ildefonso.

Credits: Story

With support from the University of Alcalá.

Curator: Rodrigo Díaz

Credits: All media
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