Mary loves to travel and shares her discoveries about the places she found fascinating.
A Vibrant University Town Since the 1200s
If I were a student, I would not hesitate to attend the University of Salamanca. My friend and I both agreed it would be fun to dig at its history and the remarkable people who made the university a center of the arts and philosophy.
I was surprised to see the many exciting landmarks in the city. I could not believe I had somehow missed this city dubbed "La Dorada," or the Golden City. I can only confess to my ignorance. So, on this last visit to Spain, I placed Salamanca at the top of my list. Though the pandemic was still happening when we finally went, the city was so vibrant, old, and yet still young.
A Rich and Diverse Heritage
From Madrid, my friend and I left early and arrived in Salamanca, ready for a morning coffee. It's a little over two hours away by car. The smell of hot chocolate and churros wafted in the air, making it easy to find where to eat. Immediately, we sensed the city's vibrant life, and though it may have been inhibited by COVID, it still filled us with excitement. On this sunny day, we started our walk to explore the city on foot.
We proceeded to the city center. Salamanca is a UNESCO world heritage site. As such, it is full of significant landmarks. This city started even before the Romans with an Iberian settlement the Carthaginians attacked in 217 BC, and then the Romans replaced. Then, around the 8th century, the Moors started to rule the city, adding to its already rich and diverse heritage.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The UNESCO site covers an area of 51 ha with an additional 130 ha buffer zone. Within this zone are the city's Old Quarter and seven other properties: Colegio de Los Irlandeses, Iglesia de San Marcos, Iglesia de Sancti Spiritus, Convento de Las Claras, Casa-Convento de Santa Teresa, Iglesia de San Juan de Barbalos and Iglesia de San Cristóbal. Each has a fascinating history, houses exciting paintings and exhibits Romanesque or Plateresque styles.
We proceeded to the Old Quarter as the glow of its sandstone buildings had attracted our attention earlier.
Originally designed to serve as a bullring, Plaza Mayor has a surrounding arcade with 88 porticoes decorated with medallions of the Kings of Spain and other remarkable people in Spain.
Salamanca's Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, the city's administrative building, is on its north side. It is a three-story Baroque building with semi-circular arches decorated with allegoric figures.
Today, the Plaza Mayor is a popular gathering place, and along its perimeters are restaurants, jewelry stores, tourist shops, cafes and ice cream parlors.
A City of Two Cathedrals
What's unique about this city is its two Cathedrals, the old and the new, and they are both connected. Access to the Old Cathedral is inside the New Cathedral. The New Cathedral may be very imposing, but the older one, with its Romanesque simplicity and having witnessed so much history, is much more engaging.
Founded by Bishop Jerome of Perigord in the 12th century, the Old Cathedral's apse houses 53 tableaux depicting the life of Jesus and Mary. Over them is a fresco of the Final Judgment.
Constructed as early as 1513, the New Cathedral melded with the Old Cathedral. The ornate carvings on its facade are notable, and when you're there, join the visitor's search for the astronaut and the faun-eating ice cream.
From the Old Cathedral's ground floor, there's a chance to visit the permanent exhibition called 'Ieronimus,' which includes access to the highest part of both cathedrals. From here, you can get a close-up view of the towers, which are 110 meters high, and it offers a fantastic view of the city.
The University of Salamanca
Founded in 1218, The University of Salamanca includes the main building (from 1415) with its plateresque west facade. There is an exciting detail in the facade that visitors constantly search for. These features were supposed to show the imperial concerns for education, but one sculptor decided to add something funny—a frog. Search for it!
There is also the former residence of the writer and scholar Miguel de Unamuno, the university's famous rector. Salamanca, at that time, was a beehive for intellectuals. See the Neoclassical Colegio de Anaya and the Colegio de Fonseca, the only remaining residential college, as well.
There's more, as almost all of the buildings in this area are worth visiting.
- The former Jesuit Seminary, now a Pontifical University.
- The Convent of the Augustinians, which houses a painting of the Immaculate Concepcion by Jose de Ribera, a leading Spanish artist who did most of his works in Italy.
- The Dominican Convent and Church of San Esteban. In 1486, the Council of Theologians examined Christopher Columbus in one of its older cloisters.
- The Romanesque Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury.
- The 12th-century Church of St. Martin.
Casa de las Conchas
This house of shells often captures people's attention as they roam Salamanca's city center. Constructed in 1493, it is now a public library. Scallop shells cover its facade, symbolizing the military Order of Santiago, of which its owner, Talavera Maldonado, was a chancellor.
Legend says that the owners hid a gold coin in each shell. Another legend was the owners hid jewels in one of the shells. They documented the price but not which of the shells, so it's open for anyone's best guess.
On the ground floor of the Casa de las Conchas, you can have a fantastic view of the front facade of the Clerecia Church, still in the hands of the Jesuits. The Clerecia facade is so beautiful that the Jesuits wanted onlookers to enjoy it. They offered gold coins for every shell in the Casa de las Conchas with a plan to demolish it and put a park there so everyone could see the stunning facade. The owners refused.
The thoroughfare includes splendid Monterrey Palace, the Úrsulas Convent, and the College of Archbishop Fonseca. Steps away are the lovely Plaza de Anaya and its charming gardens.
The House of Deaths
A haunted house always makes a city more exciting. The House of Deaths has four skulls under the pedestals of two upper windows. In the 19th century, the murder of four people from the family resulted in calling this property the House of Deaths.
Legends abound around the house, and one fascinating story tells of a nobleman who convinced a convent girl to marry him. Right after the marriage, the nobleman had to go to war. He was a good fighter, and he raved to go. He left in peace, knowing his convent girl was virtuous.
Not long after, a rumor reached him that his wife entertained men in his own house. Furious, he secretly went home and kept watch at night. He killed every man he saw leaving the house, and the visits soon stopped—except that a young man who was very good with his sword wanted to prove his skill and went to the house. When he got out, the husband met him, and they fought hard, inflicting fatal wounds on each other. Still, the husband managed to go up into the home where he killed his wife and died with her.
Legend and truth conspired to make this house haunted.
The Roman Bridge
This Roman bridge is also known as Puente Mayor del Tormes. Though its construction date is unknown, it was among the mandates of Emperor Augustus (who reigned from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.). Some claimed its construction happened during Nero's time. Others, during the time of Trajan and Hadrian. Whatever it was, the bridge remained strategic to the city of Salamanca.
Torre del Clavero
Constructed in the 15th century, this tower is part of the Sotomayor Palace. Its square base turns into an octagon as it goes higher. On each of its eight angles, it has smaller towers. Coats of arms, small arches, and cornices decorate the building, which now houses the Salamanca Provincial Government offices.
Sometimes, it hosts exhibitions aside from its permanent pharmaceutical collection.
Cave of Salamanca
This is a medieval crypt in the Church of St. Cebrian that legend says the devil disguised as a sacristan and uses to teach black magic to seven students every night. The devil also randomly chooses one of the students for him to keep. This legend probably brought about the associations to witchcraft associated with Salamanca.
The trip brought us back to medieval times in one of Spain's great university towns. We enjoyed exploring a city with so much to learn at every turn. Though medieval buildings abound, the city was far from stuffy and quiet. It has a vibrant vibe, its outside cafes brimming with a student population from around the world.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Mary Norton