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History of Salamanca

History of Salamanca

Visit Salamanca and Learn its old city, the University, the Plaza Mayor, its streets, the Cathedral and the other important monuments. Visit Salamanca now!

Salamanca is a medium sized city with a metropolitan area population of about 230,000, making it the second most populated city (after Valladolid) in its autonomous community of Castile and Leon.

The city’s history dates back to the 3rd century B.C. during Hannibal’s conquest of the old city of Helmántica as he advanced over the Iberian Peninsula. After the Carthaginians, the Romans made the city a center of importance given its strategic location on the Tormes River and on the Vía de la Plata, a road paved by the Romans. Half of a bridge built here by the Romans in the first century to accommodate the road remains standing, the other half is a later reconstruction as a flood destroyed the original. Muslims settled in the city and remained until the 11th century when it was repopulated by Christians.

The name Salamanca is inevitably associated with the city’s university, one of the Christian world’s oldest. Founded in the 12th century, the university received papal recognition from its beginnings, helping it become the heart of a city that continues marching to its beat. While it is difficult to imagine Salamanca without its university, it is also difficult to picture the university without Salamanca. An impressive series of historical buildings tower around the school and make Salamanca’s old town an enormous, open air architectural museum, where endless gothic, renaissance, and baroque monuments of great beauty seem to teleport observers to a distant past.

The Roman bridge, which recalls the rascally stunts of Spanish literature’s most famous rogue Lazaro de Tormes, crosses the river and leads straight to Salamanca´s old town. Entering the old town from the bridge, you find the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, a secluded garden that sits atop the old city wall and next to la Casa Lis, a fantastic modernist building that houses the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Tradition holds that much of Francisco de Roja’s classic tale “La Celestina” takes place in this garden. Just around the corner is the Cueva de Salamanca (Cave of Salamanca), in which supposedly the devil himself gave demonic classes to wicked disciples.

Leaving the creepy cave, you come across not one but two cathedrals set side by side: The 17th century Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral) which displays a romantic style, and the Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral), begun in the 16th century and completed in the 18th, the last gothic cathedral built in Spain. Visitors are encouraged to take a look at the sculptures carved into the New Cathedral’s stone front, where the surprising figures of an astronaut floating and a satyr with an ice cream cone force viewers to wonder how these ended up on a centuries old gothic cathedral. It seems that in 1992, a restorer decided to leave his special mark on the monument and sculpted the intriguing images.

Crossing Plaza de Anaya and its gardens, you arrive at the heart of Salamanca: the university. The Patio de las Escuelas, a square overlooked by a statue of Fray Luis de Leon and surrounded by emblematic university buildings, is where new students must find the carving of the frog hidden in the ornate masonry work of the university’s main façade. According to tradition, finding the frog guarantees students that they will pass their courses.

Continue exploring the old town and soon you will come across the Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells), opposite the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (Pontifical University of Salamanca). This unique house offers a curious example of eclectic architecture, where gothic, renaissance and Muslim elements all come together to form a style that stands in a category of its own.

All roads in Salamanca’s old town seem to lead to one public space that draws the city together: the Plaza Mayor (Main Square). It is safe to say that most Spaniards consider this “the main square”. It features baroque style, elegant arches, and the golden Villamayor stone that covers it and gives the entire city a noble air.

At this point you will likely feel like taking a break at one of the many establishments that surround the square, such as Café Novelty, located right next to the image of Salamanca’s great historical figure don Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, the oldest of the busts (1905) that line the perimeter of the plaza. Now it’s time to rest after a long walk and after taking in all the spectacular historical beauty afforded by this Castilian city.

And there’s still so much to see…