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Salamanca Travel Guide

Mansions and Monasteries

If the stones of Salamanca cast their spell on the previous itinerary, they will not only continue to do so now but will indeed conjure up kinghts and saints, nobility and clergy, sword and cross. By the end of this particular tour, the visitor will inevitably be forced to conclude that, while it might well be feasible to find as many palatial buildings and monasteries elsewhere, to find an ensemble quite like this, of such beauty and harmony, would be all but impossibe. Leaving the Plaza Mayor via Calle San Pablo, one comes to the Salina Palace (17), a 16th century structure attributed to Alonso de Fonseca. It is one of Salamanca's most beautiful Renaissance buildings. The façade, over a loggia frontage formed by four rounded arcades, is decorated with medallions, while the inner patio features an ornately corbelled gallery. The palace is the official seat of the Provincial Authority. Emerging from amongst the trees almost directly opposite is the Clavero Tower (18). This 15th century fortress, thought begun on a square groundplan with rubble walling, later came to assume its present-day octagonal shape, with walls od cut and dressed ashlar. Each side is capped by a round sentry turret, which accentuates its medieval flavour. Standing on the same side of the street as the Salina Palace is the Orellana Palace (19), dating from the end of the 16th century. The decoration is limited to an alternating series of triangular and rounded gables over the pedimental windows on the first floor. This rather cold architecture suggests Herrarian influences.

Gothic Quarter
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Walking down Calle Jesús, formerly called Calle Ataúd (ataúd; coffin) -the backdrop used by Espronceda in his story, El estudiante de Salamanca (The student of Salamanca)- one comes to the Abrantes palace (20) standing on the corner. This 15th century tower was truncated by order of the Catholic Monarchs, as a sign that they would brook no opposition from the nobility. Proceeding downhill, Las Dueñas Convent (21) will be seen on the left. Do not be taken in by the austere look of the exterior: go inside and you will be pleasantly surprised. The convent was founded by Juana Rodríguez Maldonado in 1419 and was in fact built on the site of her own mansion, of which some Mudejar vestiges still remain. The building was designed by Juan de Álava and Rodrigo gil de Hontañón. The two-storey cloister encloses an irregular pentagonal courtyard. On the lower level, graceful segmental arches are supported by plinthed columns. Along the upper level, the straight lintel rests on a series of columns, featuring squat bases and ornately worked composite capitals. It has to be said that the sculptural artistry visible in the detail displays a mastery verging on pure genius. The expressiveness and vigour with which the figures twist and writhe seems to hint at Berruguete's influence. The view from the second storey is one of Salamanca's best.

St. Stephen's Monastery (Convento de San Esteban) (22) lies across the small bridge leading from the Plaza Concilio de Trento. Under the sheltering umbrella of its triumphal arch, the façade is a retable in stone, divided into groups and rows, where the soft foliated lines of Plateresque grotesque merge and mingle with the pronounced relief of the niches and free-standing statues of the saints. Centre stage, over the doorway, is Ceroni's Martyrdom of St. Stephen (1610), and immediately above, a Calvary scene. In the late afternoon, when the sunlight falls directly on the stonework, the façade acquires a magnificence difficult to forget. The church, designed by Juan de Álava in the shape of a Latin cross, was begun in 1524 and has a single broad nave and side chapels enclosed within its buttresses. Rising over the transept crossing is the dome, its square lantern set with large windows, attributed to Juan de Ribero Rada. Framed by the barley-sugar (Salomonica) columns of the high altar restable by Churriguera (1691-1693) is Claudio Coello's painting of the Martyrdom (stoning) of St. Stephen. Outside, the portico leading to the Reyes cloister dates from the mid-16th century and is reminiscent of an Italian loggia. The inner courtyard is a beautiful combination of Gothic and Renaissance. The lower level features rounded arches with delicate mullions, medallions and stellar vaulting, while on the upper level, Gothic elements give way to arches and decorative motifs that are wholly Renaissance. Among the rooms to see, are the Salón de Profundis, where Columbus conversed with the Dominicans on his voyage to the West Indies, and the Pantheon of the Theologians.

Turning right as one comes out of the church, one spies Calatrava College (23), founded by the Knights of this order (16th century) when the university was at its peak. Work on the present building was begun in 1717 by Joaquín de Churriguera in the Baroque style, but the ensuing shift in taste to Neoclassical has vested it with a certain aloof coldness. A little farther on stands the Church of Santo Tomas Cantuariense (24), the first Romanesque churdch dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Once again, a Latin-cross groundplan takes the form of single nave and three apses. Walking back along Calle Rosario one returns to Las Dueñas Convent and thence, via the Gran Vía, to the Plaza Mayor.

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