Alcalá de Henares is located in the countryside, on the right bank of the Henares, about twelve kilometers from its mouth in the Jarama. However, the enclave of Alcalá was not always the same, which led Torres Balbás to consider it as a “traveling city”. Alcala has known four different locations.
The city, of which important remains of its public buildings are preserved, knew a high degree of romanization, especially from the year 74, in which Vespasiano granted him the status of "municipium", receiving the Complutenses Latin citizenship. At the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the next, the city will be abandoned. In the mid-ninth century Muslims built a fortress castle on the other side of the river. At that time Alcalá is in one of the most important communication channels, the one that connected Zaragoza with Córdoba, through Toledo. The kings of Castile will yield in 1129 Alcalá and his Land to the archbishops of Toledo. Throughout the Middle Ages, the different monarchs and archbishops will favor Alcalá with a good number of privileges, exemptions and protections that will allow their economic development, being one of the most important the concession of an annual fair in 1184 and a second fair in the mid-thirteenth century.
Alcalá will be the residence of the monarchs on numerous occasions. In this way Don Juan I died here in 1390, in 1486 the first interview between Christopher Columbus and Queen Elizabeth took place. In Alcalá, the Infanta Catalina, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, was born in 1485, who later became the first wife of Henry VIII and queen of England. In 1503 the infant Fernando, son of Juana de Castilla and Felipe and brother of Carlos V, was also born in Alcalá, who would become emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Hungary and Bohemia.
But the event that will definitely mark the destiny of Alcalá and its international projection, will be the foundation of the Complutense University by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499. Between 1514 and 1517 the Complutense Polyglot Bible is published in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, printed by Arnao Guillen de Brocar. From its earliest moments the University of Alcalá becomes the main focus of Spanish humanism and, later, of the Religious Counter Reformation and the Golden Age.
In 1687 King Carlos II will grant Alcalá the title of City, being the first to hold such a category throughout the Community of Madrid, including the capital.
The Napoleonic invasion and the War of Independence will be a blow to the artistic and cultural heritage of the city. The old university buildings are publicly auctioned and their heritage pillaged. Thanks to the establishment of military quarters and presidios, in addition to the arrival of the railroad in 1857, the city registered a slight economic and demographic recovery since the last quarter of the 19th century. Only from the 1950s with the establishment of several industries will an incipient socio-economic development begin. In 1968 its old town is declared "Historic-Artistic Complex" of a national nature. At the time, it is being configured as a host city of cultural and educational institutions, among which is the Instituto Cervantes, created by the State in 1991 to spread the Spanish language and Spanish culture throughout the world.
Alcalá de Henares is today a city that approaches 210,000 inhabitants that is committed to the tertiary sector and a qualified and research industry, noting a progressive development of its tourist and cultural possibilities.