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Salamanca Travel Guide

Baroque and Renaissance

A marked resurgence of beauty: mansion, church and convent continue to alternate, yet the magic now stems from the contrast in architectural styles. There is a break with the straight line, a departure from symmetrical serenity, and instead the curve convulses, creating spaces of light and shadow. Walk down Calle Prior away from the Plaza Mayor to the Monterrey Palace, and thence via Calle Bordadores to the statue of Unamuno. The urban ensemble grouped around the great man's figure is extraordinary. There is Corregidor Ovalle House/Unamuno House-cum-Museum (25), where Miguel Unamuno lived during the latter years of his life, and adjoining it, the Casa de las Muertes (26) (literally, House of the dead), a truly lovely example of 16th century Salamanca Plateresque. Assumed to have been the home of the architect, Juan de Álava, its name is linked to local legend that not only whispers of the murder of a priest by the family, but has it that, when the foundations were being dug up, headless bodies appeared, rumoured to be those of the Manzano brothers decapitated on the orders of María la Brava. Others are of the opinion that the name is simply a reference to the skulls on the windows consoles. the bust of Archbishop Alonso de Fonseca is prominent amidst the exquisitely worked decoration, and just across the way is the Ursuline Convent (Convento de las Úrsulas) (27) which he founded in 1512. This Late gothic-style church, with a lofty polygonal apse that is more a tower topped by a balustrade, houses the tomb of its founder. Sculpted by Diego de Siloé in white marble, the Archbishop's sarcophagus is considered to be one of the best works of the Renaissance period. The museum has some interesting exhibits by artists such as Juan de Borgoña.

Adjoining the museum is the Chapel of the True Cross (Vera Cruz) (28), its Baroque interior hung with an immaculate Conception attributed to Gregorio Fernández.

Gothic Quarter
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A walk along Calle de las Úrsulas leads to the Campo de San Francisco, one part of the monastery founded by Fadrique, Duke of alba, in the 13th century. From here, the route continues on to Fonseca College (29) which, along with San Bartolomé, Cuenca and Oviedo College, was one of four University Halls of Residence and the only one to have survived intact. It is also known by the name of the Irish College. The best architects of the age, Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, Juan de Álava and Diego de Siloé, were all involved in the construction of a building commissioned by Archbishop Fonseca in 1525. The façade displays a number of novelties: architectural predominate over decorative elements, and Villamayor stone has been used in combination with granite. Inside, the high altar retable is by Berruguete.

The use of rounded arches along the lower, and basket-handle arches along the upper galleries has given the two-storeyed patio an atmosphere of carefully crafted harmony. The pillars are prolonged by torchholders, enhancing their slender elegance, while the spandrels are ornamented with medallions. Almost fronting onto Fonseca Collega is the Church of the Capuchines (30), the work of García Quiñones and the only significant remnant of the former Franciscan Monastery. From here, one can catch sight of the enormous dome of the Church of the Immaculate Conception (la Purísima) (31) (Augustinian Convent) founded by Fonseca and Zúñiga. Curving over the cruciform grounplan of one of the great Baroque churches is its massive central dome, which collapsed in 1657 and had to be rebuilt some years later. The high altar retable is dominated by José de Ribera's sublime painting of the Immaculate Conception.

Opposite stands Monterrey Palace (32), considered by many to be the Spanish Renaissance palace par excellence. Designed by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, work on this building began in 1539. Whilst the lower section is almost totally devoid of ornamentation, a line of windows with the typical decoration of the time is symmetrically set into the long top-floor gallery. Nowadays, the building belongs to the House of Alba. Go via Calle Prior to return to the Plaza Mayor.

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