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As I’m now heading into my final few weeks in Spain (leaving this 32°C heat to go back to rainy England doesn’t bare thinking about!) I’ve already started getting nostalgic about the time I’ve spent here. Salamanca is a really fantastic place to study Spanish, but it’s the city’s quirks and unique character that I’m going to miss.
One of my favourite days here was Lunes de Agua. This tradition is observed the first Monday after Lent, and dates back to the Catholic roots of Spanish society. In order to keep the city ‘pure’ for the Semana Santa celebrations at Easter, in XVI century the king Phillip II expelled the city’s prostitutes from Salamanca, so that the men to keep their minds on the religious goings on!
However, back in those times, the Puente Romano (the Roman Bridge) was the only way in and out of the city centre, as a the Rio Tormes river runs along it. Since the bridge was blessed for the Semana Santa processions, these unholy women weren’t allowed to walk across it!
So the prostitutes were rowed away on boats to the outskirts of the city each Ash Wednesday, to await “Water Monday” as it is known, when they were allowed back into the city. The men of Salamanca were so excited at the prospect their return, that every Lunes de Agua, the Salmantinos would spend all day sitting, waiting and being merry by the river until the row boats moored on the banks by the city and the real party got started!
I’m not entirely sure when the prostitutes of Salamanca stopped getting kicked out every Easter, but the festivities remain to this day. Nowadays it’s fun for all of the family, and the city's river banks are full of picnics and parties on the first Monday after Lent. Although it’s not technically a public holiday (sadly I still had to work, although in true Spanish style the party keeps going into the early hours of the morning), many of the smaller businesses shut for the afternoon in order to be part of the merriment!
Another part of Lunes de Agua which has stood the test of time is the hornazo. This amazing meat pie, so full of chorizo, jamón, salchichón and everything else that would horrify a vegetarian, is taken down to the river as sustenance for the day. The hornazos are huge; mine took me the best part a week to finish! They were designed so that the men wouldn’t need to keep popping into town for food and risk missing the prostitutes’ return. They are surprisingly moist for a meat pie, although very often they get washed down with a six-pack or two!
What I really enjoyed about this crazy tradition (apart from all the vino...) was that after the very solemn week of Easter celebrations, where the focus is on penance for all your sins, the Salmantinos go above and beyond in enoying themselves for a very un-holy reason! It was one of my favourite days in Salamanca (although the day after was pretty difficult!) and if you’re thinking of visiting, I’d definitely suggest co-ordinating your trip with Lunes de Agua!