The University of Alcalá de Henares

Constitución UCM

The origin of The Complutense University dates back to the late 13th century, when Sancho IV of Castile granted the Archbishop of Toledo, Gonzalo García Gudiel, a licence to create the General School of Study in Alcalá  (Estudio de Escuelas Generales de Alcalá) in the city of Alcalá de Henares in the spring of 1293. 

The main building of the Cisnerian University (Universidad Cisneriana) was the  San Ildefonso Hall of Residence. In January 1510, Cisneros approved its Constitution which laid out the rules governing the institution and set the rights and duties of every member of the community.

Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, Cardinal and Archbishop of Toledo, Regent of Castile and alumnus of the General School, established the Complutensis Universitas (the Latin name of Complutense University), through a Papal Bull granted by Pope Alexander VI on 13 April, 1499. Cisneros provided the new university with a vast area of rustic and urban land as a show of  his support for the university.

Along with the San Ildefonso Hall of Residence, several small residences were also founded by Cisneros. Special mention must be made of the San Pedro and San Pablo residences, which belonged to the  Franciscan Order, of which Cisneros was a member. The College of the Mother of God (Colegio de la Madre de Dios), subsequently known as the College of the Theologians (Colegio de los Teólogos), in which studies of theology and medicine were taught;  Santa Catalina  Ode (Arts & Physics); College of San Balbina (also known as the Collego for Logicians in which the first courses of Art were taught) and The Colleges of San Eugenio and San Isidoro, which merged into the  College of San Ambrosio in the seventieth century and was known as for Grammarians (de los gramáticos) for Latin and Greek language studies.  During the second quarter of the sixteenth century, about thirty new schools related to religious orders, military, royal and private institutions were founded

In the academic year 1509-1510, the Complutense already operated with five major schools: Arts and Philosophy, Theology, Canon Law, Philology and Medicine. The university was influenced by  Renaissance thought and the ideals of humanism against the old conception of the medieval universities. In order to reconcile theology with the principles of the classical period in accordance with the guidelines of the reform movement embodied by the Franciscan Order, the Cisnerian University  intended to recover spiritual values lost during the Middle Ages. In addition, the university focused on training lawyers and theologians, who served the Monarchy,  to manage the increasingly complex structure of the administration.

The prestige of the studies and teachers at the  Complutense  became the model on which new universities  in Latin America would be established. The golden era of the university lasted until the seventeenth century, when  its decline began as a result of the effects of the Counter-Reformation. Up until then, the university had been the core of humanistic thought for the Spanish Monarchy.

 Enlightenment Reforms unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the decline of the university at this time. Until well into the 18th century,  higher education was based on the scholastic method of exposition and debate. In order to overcome  this unsustainable situation, the reform for study programmes was proposed in 1770, during the Reign of Charles III and  faced strong resistance from the universities. During the Enlightenment period and according to the centralization policy supported by the  Bourbon Monarchy, some new centres were established in which research and specialized education began to share the same space. These included  the Cabinet of Natural History (Gabiente de Historia Natural) in 1771,  The Royal Botanical Garden (Real Jardín Botánico)  in 1755 and Royal Observatory of Madrid  (Real Observatorio de Madrid) in 1790.   

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, as well as the subsequent political and social instability which led to the War of Independence  and the Age of Absolutism, spelled the end of the reforming principles of the Enlightenment.