The University of Salamanca. When talking about Spanish universities, it is impossible not to mention the University of Salamanca.
One of the Oldest Universities in Europe
When talking about Spanish universities, it is impossible not to mention the University of Salamanca. This is Spain’s oldest continuously operating university and one of the four oldest in Europe along with the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Bologna.
The University of Salamanca was originally a cathedral school which dated back to 1130. In 1218, King Alfonso IX granted this school with the title of General School of the Kingdom. It would later be called Universitas Studii Salmantini.
The University of Salamanca was originally a learning institution based mainly on legal studies (classes offered included law, medicine, logic, grammar, and music) following in the footsteps of the University of Bologna. Arts and theology were the preferred subjects at the universities of Paris and Oxford. In 1254 Salamanca became the first university with a public library. In 1255, a papal bull from Pope Alexander IV granted worldwide validity to degrees earned at the University of Salamanca. More positions for law professors were created over the 13th and the 14thcenturies.
Interestingly, during the university’s first centuries, classes were taught in Latin and most students came from Northern Spain. In the 14th century it served 600 students. That number had grown to 3,000 by the beginning of the 16th century.
The first building erected exclusively for the university was the San Bartolomé Colegio Mayor (residence hall) in 1401. A decade later, Bishop Diego de Anaya Maldonado ordered the construction of the Escuelas Mayores. The following decade, the Hospital del Estudio and the Escuelas Menores were built.
By the 16th century, the university had 6,500 new students per year and it was seen as a national model. One curious fact is that the world’s first female university students studied at this university: Beatriz Galindo and Lucía de Madrano, who would later become the first woman to teach at a university.
After a century of relative decline, refurbishment to the university in the 18th century during the reign of Carlos III elevated it to one of the most important focal points of the Age of Enlightenment in Spain.
During the French invasion in the beginning of the 19th century a number of buildings related to the university were destroyed and the libraries were plundered. A century and a half later, some of what was sacked from the libraries was recovered.
In 1845, the university lost its right to issue doctorate degrees, a right exclusively reserved for the Universidad Central in Madrid. Around the same time, Salamanca lost its Science and Medicine departments, leaving it only with its Law, Philosophy, and Letters departments. With the “punishing” decisions ordered from the centralist government, Salamanca’s local and provincial organisms (the provincial council and the city hall) had to economically maintain both departments until they were recognized by the state again in 1904.
In 1953-54, during the celebration of its 700th anniversary, the University of Salamanca clearly showed its desire to move beyond its role as a provincial school that supported centralist politics and recover its status as an educational reference on a national level. During the celebration the University Salamanca was recognized as an alma mater for Latin American universities.
The school’s growth has been spectacular, expanding from 4,000 students in the early 1960’s to 32,000 in 2013. It has 16 departments and also satellite campuses in Avila, Zamora, and Bejar, offering 74 undergraduate degrees and 102 post graduate degrees (66 masters and 36 doctorate programs). It has one of the most international student bodies of any Spanish university: 47% of its master’s degree program students and 49% of its doctorate program students are foreign.
The university’s Summer Course program has also helped make the school one of the leading destinations for students travelling to Spain to improve their Spanish, Erasmus students and for international students in general attracted by its prestigious schools of Medicine, Law, Philosophy, Letters, and Language.
The University of Salamanca is intrinsically woven into the fabric of the city. Its monumental buildings, multiple libraries, and its university are practically one indivisible entity.