After a long night out in Salamanca (amongst a majority of students), there is no greater gift you can give the beleaguered body (which also deserves a break from time to time, "poor thing"), than a breakfast in the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, (there are several cafes that look good).
Hot churros with chocolate, a good coffee (or whatever it is I drank) relaxing the mind in front a statue that seems alive, of Torrente Ballester (adopted son of the City) in the oldest coffee house (of 1905) in Salamanca, the Novelty Café.
While you eat breakfast, you can see around you the baroque art of the square, (also, street level art that can be enjoyed by all, which is what I like), or the coats of arms of famous celebrities from Spanish history (I was going to say illustrious, but there are some who don’t deserve it).
This square (considered one of the most beautiful and impressive in Spain), was built in the eighteenth century (between 1729 and 1755) and, since then, has been the heart in which life is born (both night and day) in the city. By day the plaza shines with the gold of its stone, by night it is a promenade with much magic.
It is a truly special place. The entire city of Salamanca is imbued with magic, precious corners and spectacular views ... But of everything one can find in the city, my favourite has to be the cathedrals. No need to be a believer in order to perceive the beauty of these historic buildings, its aroma, its art and its history.
The University of Salamanca is the second oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It was founded in 1218 as a comprehensive school and later converted into a University by the wise Alfonso X in 1254.
Like Oxford or Cambridge, the University of Salamanca has several Halls of Residence. They were founded as charities that allowed poor students to receive a university education. Today many of these colleges remain, with the same function as before. Others have become faculties and part of the university. Today the University of Salamanca enjoys great prestige and is considered one of the most advanced research institutions.
The University buildings we see on entering the old town function differently today than they did 3 or 4 centuries ago. The oldest buildings and classrooms (like the one with the famous facade) are no longer are used for conferences, special academic events or sightseeing.
They have created many buildings around the old town, where today a great number of university classrooms are distributed (usually the Social and Natural Sciences are out of town, leaving inside the literal courses).
This place is one of the most visited and beautiful in Salamanca, not only for its beautiful history but for the beautiful gardens wherein it rests. This is the garden of Calixto (Calisto) and Melibea, located on the old wall of Salamanca by the river Tormes.
The work is by Fernando de Rojas, who wanted to demonstrate in the garden the romantic and medieval airs that they lived in at that time.
The garden is about 2500 square meters and several elements attract the attention: the statue of Celestina (Celestina Monument) at the entrance, the fountain, the well, the bow and, of course, the distribution of plants and trees (where curiously, you are going to find many grapevines).
It is also told that the city of Salamanca was the scene that inspired Fernando de Rojas to write his novel.
This beautiful corner evokes, well, the place where the two lovers Calixto and Melibea met in La Celestina.
Love, Nature, Romanticism and history make these gardens a secluded place for silence, meditation and romance. Alongside beautiful sunsets which were once witnessed by Calixto and Melibea.
The Casa de las Conchas (House of shells) claims its uniqueness to the four winds that cross it. It brings a late Gothic style coupled with the renewed enthusiasm of the Renaissance but still keeps its Moorish feel. The Casa de las Conchas does not want to belong to anyone but the 300 shells that caress its facade.
It was born as Salamanca's historic centre, to form a unit, an art complex worthy of being considered a World Heritage Site. But in this wink that brings success, its shells grant it a relevance above the buildings that surround it, which makes it an object for the curious tourists and foreigners who smile in front of its facade.
I love it. I know I've arrived in Salamanca when I run into its shells. Its then that the streets and gardens lose their anonymity and I feel the joy and the longing to be in the Salamancan capital.
What nature does not give, Salamanca does not provide. Or maybe it does. For now I'll tell you a secret. I am told that under one of the shells is a gold coin. Can you find out which?
The Roman bridge of Salmantica, which was the name for Salamanca during the period of Roman rule, is built on the River Tormes.
No one knows exactly when it was built. There was talk of it during the time of Augustus and Trajan, that last had been the developer of the Vía de la Plata (Silver road), which was mined in the region, and surely repaired the bridge for their business purposes. It is estimated that it was built more or less in the first century, without giving an exact date.
The first 15 arches of the bridge are original; the rest is a reconstruction as it was destroyed during invasions and wars. The original part is about 190 meters long, with the arches which are 6.50 meters each. It has 26 arches in total.
There is not much life around the bridge to tell the truth, and there is no traffic passing over the bridge as it is pedestrian. At night it is very nice to go around, on the banks of the river Tormes, and observe how it illuminates, with the cathedral and the rest of the old city in the background.
Salamanca can boast of many things, like the fact it houses the oldest university in Spain, created by Alfonso X in 1218 and without a doubt the most traditional of university buildings.
Within its walls are students of every ilk, locked in a constant rivalry with Alcalá de Henares. Teachers and visitors of great prestige, such as Friar Luis of León, Nebrija, San Juan de la Cruz, Cervantes, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester and Miguel de Unamuno who was rector of the University.
The university library is wonderful, with 483 incunabula, 2,774 manuscripts and 62,000 pamphlets printed before the nineteenth century. Anecdotally one must say that the spheres and terrestrial globes from the library had to be counted as "round books" to get the O.K for purchase from the accountants. Alfonso X appointed the first librarian in 1254, and the modern library contains one million copies. In addition to its glorious university history, and its current strength as a favourite spot for many foreign students to learn Spanish (I certainly would not recommend "Madrid" and much less "Barcelona"), Salamanca is also a Jacobean city of great importance, as for quite some time it was ascribed to the archbishopric of Santiago and is located right on the Via de la Plata (Silver Way), for the "traveller from the road to the South, traveller of light, of reflection, united in the way of the spirit, pilgrim in the Jacobean universe " .
Indeed, the archbishop Fonseca of Santiago, and once also of Salamanca, left in both cities splendid Renaissance buildings headquarters for Fonseca College. Intellectual, patron, a man ahead of his time, humanistic rather than clerical who became archbishop of Toledo the highest ecclesiastical authority in Spain, despite being the fruit of forbidden relations between Alonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Santiago, and Galician noblewoman Maria de Ulloa.
The Jacobean character of the city is also reflected in the Roman bridge that crosses the Tormes to get to the church of Santiago, and especially in the House of Shells, mandated by the knight and Chancellor of the Santiago Order, which has its stone façade completely covered by the pilgrim symbol and exquisite Gothic grilles. As said in a poetic phrase, "in the skin of the city, its buildings, is everything: memory, the present and the future. The footprints they are, the echoes they’ve been and will be. "
Salamanca is a hospitable city and open to everyone, for 800 years it has continuously been university headquarters and one feels comfortable in this multicultural environment, as I found in a cyber café located in the Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful in Spain, where the attendant struggled speaking up to five languages with the foreigners (especially the foreign girls), which they all were except me.
Salamanca deserves leisurely walks through its historic streets, visits to libraries "of old" coffees with flavours (and smells) of the past, lively terraces in the main square (weather permitting), where one watches life pass, and certainly a visit to the River Tormes and the Roman bridge, where its joined by the Via de la Plata, as evidenced by the shells on the floor.
The cathedral deserves special praise for its gothic grandeur, the last of its kind built in Spain, in which through a secluded door gives way to the Romanesque cathedral of the twelfth century, much more discreet in its forms, but markedly more welcoming and spiritual, with works of great value like the Romanesque door of beautiful capitals, the room where aspiring doctors defended their thesis under the stern gaze of the judges in their tribune, and the contained banter of their peers.
It is one of the most beautiful and lively places in Salamanca. Always full of walkers, outdoor activities, and people relaxing in the gardens, enjoying the great historical setting in which it is located.
A few months ago, the towers of San Marcos were opened to the public. Climbing them allows you to see Salamanca in a very special light: there aren't many cities with such spectacular views to offer. I recommend the towers to visitors, not just for the views, but also for the panels that explain the local history. Once at the top, it's easy to pick out the different landmarks thanks to the information panels. It's not expensive, and really is a must-see in the city. Hours: January, February and March from 10:00 to 18:00 (last entry is at 17:15). From April to December 10:00 to 20:00 (last entry is at 19:15). Rates: Individual ticket: €3.75. Group: €3.25. Individual Joint admission: 6.00€. Joint group ticket: €5.00.
The convent of San Esteban is one of the must see' in Salamanca. Its magnificent façade and beautiful interior mean that few visitors pass through Salamanca without visiting it, and few Salamancans do not return again and again to admire its facade and interior.
The facade dates from 1529, and is considered a masterpiece of the Plateresque style. It is built, like most of the buildings of this era in Salamanca, from Villamayor stone. The front facade has three altarpieces, and at the top is a richly decorated crest. You can see the large medallion of Spain's Reyes Catolicos, with the inscription "The University of the Kings and the Kings of the University". There are also shields which are said to either represent Carlos I and his wife, or Hercules and Hebe. And of course, there is the famous frog on the facade, with various stories to explain its purpose.
The park's history dates back to 1882, when it was decided to start work on the railway leading to Portugal. Work was delayed as it was difficult to get hold of all the necessary materials. To publicize the project, and exhibition was set up at the Paseo de Canalejas, after the City acquired the land at low cost to convert it into a municipal park. Facilities at the Park Alamedilla include an artificial lake in the heart of the campus, bordered by weeping willows, and a space dedicated to caring for birds. The most popular attraction in the park is a small zoo, where there is a large lime tree in the centre. The park has many recreational areas for children, including a puppet theatre, a library and a pond with ducks and swans. You can see rabbits, guinea hens or turkeys here.
Something to note, this park is usually a nocturnal rendezvous for gay orgies.
Casa Lis, Salamanca's Museum of Art Nouveau Art Deco, is located near the Roman Bridge just across from the Automobile Museum. Casa Lis was built by the architect Joaquin Vargas Aguirre (also responsible for the market) in the early twentieth century, and is famous for its eye-catching blue and green glass. The museum is currently exhibiting some private pieces that belong to a man named Ramon Ramos Andrade, who has decided to make them available to the public. You can see everything from toys to lamps and furniture. The visit is also worth it for the views of the river. The museum is open in summer from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, except on Monday, and in winter it closes at 7:00pm. During the week, it closes at lunchtime too. Admission is 3.00 euros, 2.00 for students. If you are a group you can take a guided tour for 15 euros.
The statue of Lazarillo de Tormes is located next to the church of Santiago in the city of Salamanca, next to the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) and obviously the River Tormes. It is a tribute to the Spanish language as it is a monument from the Salamancan population to one of the greatest works of Spanish picaresque that was created by native sculptor Don Agustin Casillas.
It consists of a group of bronze sculptures, laid on a concrete pedestal with a height of 2.15 meters, the piece being inaugurated on September 15, 1974.
In addition, we see it while crossing the Puente Romano.
The Palacio de Anaya is a beautiful palace behind the new cathedral of Salamanca. It's currently the School of Philology and has a library that's open to all of the city's students. The palace's neoclassical facade recalls those of Roman temples with four columns and a triangular roof. On the left side is a chapel, founded in 1401 by Diego de Anaya y Maldonado. You can visit the cloister, but it's full of students which gives this old building a modern and cheerful vibe. I prefer that to seeing a lifeless old monument, void of anyone excepts tourists. Normally you're allowed to go upstairs, but you can ask a student if you need directions.
In the centre of the Patio de las Escuelas (Schools court) of Salamanca is a monument to friar Luis de León, the poet and sixteenth century Spanish Augustinian.
Friar Luis was a doctorate in theology and taught at the University of Salamanca (he was even a professor at San Juan de la Cruz), a city in which he also entered the Augustinian order.
Friar Luis de Leon went to jail during la Inquisition for complaints from some university professors ve reproached him for having translated the Bible into Spanish, something prohibited at the time by the Catholic Church.
This is not a typical Zara store, a space that could be part of a shopping centre in any country. It is a convent. The clothing company took 8 years to restore the remains of the convent of San Antonio el Real, its 22 metre high dome, and give it a modern twist, converting it into this peculiar store. The site was considered of cultural interest, so extra care was taken while restoring it.
Now it is a success, very pleasant: it has four levels, and is separated from the historic walls of the church convent by stained glass windows, which don’t reduce space, but protect the monument.
This steel and glass structure fits in perfectly with the old parts. The ground is further protected by steel piles. The convent is eighteenth-century and is now one of the most unique Zara stores. The construction of the convent began in 1736, what now remains are just the dome of the church, the convent walls, and the transept. All in Baroque style.
There's such an amazing variety of things to see in Salamanca that in 1988 the city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Among the top Salamanca attractions are its two cathedrals. The Old Cathedral was founded by Bishop Jeronimo de Perigord and is of Romanesque and Gothic style, while the New Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin is the seat of the Diocese of Salamanca and was built in Gothic and Baroque styles. The contrast between the two makes them both essential places to visit in Salamanca.
Other unmissable attractions in Salamanca include the Casa de la Concha. It is a building with Gothic and Renaissance and elements and its facade is decorated with over 300 shells and multiple crests and shields. The Plaza Mayor is a great place to go when you're asking yourself what to do in Salamanca. It's an area that today is the focal point of the city, where you can relax with a good cup of coffee.
Of course, a lot of the stuff to do in Salamanca emphasises the fact that this is a student city. Its university, the site of a number of exciting Salamanca activities, is the oldest in Spain and was founded in 1218 by Alfonso IX of Leon. More historic buildings include the Convento de San Esteban, the Unamuno House-Museum, the House of the Dead, and the Palacio de Monterrey. But it's easy to forget that one of the best things to do in Salamanca is keep in touch with nature. There's a wealth of greenways that can be crossed either on foot or by bike, showing that this city is the perfect blend of greenery and urbanisation.
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