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Salamanca Travel Guide

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Salamanca's History

Salamanca, throughout its long history, has been a protagonist of Spain's most significant historical events. Pre-Roman remains can be found in Teso de San Vicente, beside the river Tormes, in the Verraco (Iberican statue representing a bull) situated in the centre of the Roman bridge, in the city walls, in numerous inscriptions and along the Calzada de la Plata which, passing through Salamanca, united Mérida and Astorga. Salmántica belonged to the Roman province of Lusitania, was besieged by Hannibal but we have little information of the Visigothic era. From the third Council of Toledo onwards the Bishops of this city can be found to have participated in its decisions.

Conquered by the Arabs, lost and recuperated severals times by the Christians, it was definitively reconquered by the great pro-European king Alfonso VI who placed the colonialisation of this part of his kingdom in the hands of his son-in-law, Count Raimundo de Borgoña, married in 1096 to his first-born, Doña Urraca, granting the city its first municipal charter.

In 1200 Alfonso IX founded what was to become eighteen years later the University of Salamanca. Salamanca thus owes its renown and prosperity to this king. The new University soon received great favours from Fernando el Santo and Alfonso X el Sabio who established the number and type of chairs the University was to be composed of. In 1254, Pope Alexander IV called the University of Salamanca "one of the four leading lights of the world".

The 15th century was a period of agitation in Salamanca as it was in the rest of Spain. There was bitter fighting between the supporters of D. Alvaro de Luna and the Infantes of Aragón.

But the violent fighting which divided the city in two was made worse by a tragic event which occured in 1465. Two brothers of the Manzano family killed two others of the Enrique family from Seville due to an incident during a ball game. When their mother, María Rodríguez de Monroy -afterwards to be called María the Brave- saw the bodies of her sons, she silently set off after the assassins. She found them at an inn in Viseu (Portugal), killed them and returning with the heads of the two Manzanos, threw them on the tomb stones of the church of Santo Tomé where her sons rested.

The city was divided into two enemy groups, each side taking on the name of the parishes of Santo Tomé or San Benito, bloodying the city, inspite of the fervereous preaching of San Juan de sahagún.

Salamanca was visited on several ocassions by the Catholic King and Queen, one of these due to the death of their son, Prince don Juan, in 1497. The Catholic King lived here from October 1505 to March 1506.

Carlos I visited Salamanca in 1534, and Felipe II in 1543, marrying his first wife, María of Portugal, here.

Felipe III revisited the city in 1600 with his second wife, Margaret of Austria. The city took part in the War of Succession, on the side of Felipe V. Conquered by the Archduke's troop, it was soon recovered by the founder of the Bourbon dynasty, who stayed here for several days in 1710, when the construction of the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) was agreed.

Salamanca was badly affected by the Peninsula War. From 1808 to 1811 it was open to the armies who disputed the hegemony of Europe on Spanish soil. At last, the battle of Arapiles, at the very gates of the city and in which Wellington defeated Napoleon's army, led to the withdrawl of the latter from Spanish territory. But this withdrawl left behind the destruction of marvellous architectural treasures, many colleges, palaces and buildings such as the Colegio Mayor de Cuenca which was considered to be "one of the marvels of architecture".

If the political history of Salamanca was not very eventful, it was the diverse incidents in the life of the University, the distribution of the professorships, the relationship between the lecturers and the students, and between the latter and the people of the city, which make up its history up to the 19 century.

In the field of Art, all the styles have left their most worthy and exquisite mark on this city. The Spanish plateresque style, of decorative quality and fine execution, offers its most beautiful examples here in Salamanca. This decorative tendency of the Plateresque style finds of a beautiful golden colour.

Innumerable historical celebrities, from Fray Luis de León, Antonio de Nebrija, Francisco de Vitoria, Cervantes, Menéndez Valdés, San Juan de la Cruz de Miguel de Unamuno or Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, have passed through the city, both in the university field as well as in that of the Arts, leaving the mark of their knowledge on this beautiful city.

Today, the city offers the same aspect as do similiar ones in the rest of the Spanish provinces, although perhaps with a more intense spiritual life due to studies which were reanimated by the founding of the Pontificia University (catholic university).

It is the university life, in all its aspects, which adds emotion and colour to its daily rhythm. Its tradition, its present atmosphere, make it apt to be considered, like Oxford and Cambridge, the Spanish university city. Everyday life could be said to centre around the magnificent Plaza Mayor. Its archways echo with what is going on in the city.

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