Salamanca PDF Print E-mail

The City of Salamanca

Salamanca is the spanish university city by excellence, known in the whole world for this and for its artistic richness: cathedrals, palaces, churches... of artistic styles such as romanesque, gothic, plateresque y barroque.

Situated on the banks of the river Tormes, its geographical extensión is 12.336 Km², and it currently has 159.000 inhabitants.


The city of Salamanca, or "Helmantika", was founded in the 4th century BC by the Celts (Vettones and Vacceos) and Romanized short after. It constituted an important link of communications of the Ruta de la Plata, the Roman "Road of the Silver" which crossed the Peninsula from North to South. Helmantika was later called Salmantica and finally, since the 13th century, the city got its present name, Salamanca. In the 8th century, during the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, the city was conquered by Musa Ibh Nusair, and Muslim culture took over Christianity. After the Christian Reconquest, in the 13th century, the king Alfonso IX founded what was to become the University of Salamanca some eighteen years later. So, in many ways, the city owes its fame and prosperity to him. The new University soon received recognition from Kings Fernando el Santo (The Saint) and Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise), establishing the number and type of professorships that should make up the University structure. The University was later ratified by the Pope Alexander IV in 1255. The city and its university reached great prestige at the time and afterwards, with outstanding figures such as Abd-el-Krim or the famous writer Miguel de Unamuno, who was vice-Chancellor at the University of Salamanca. The splendour of the XVI century when Salamanca was the epicentre of learning and worldly knowledge, the crisis of the Baroque period, the Peninsular War and the isolation of the 19th and a good part of the 20th centuries, have moulded both the physical and the spiritual aspects of the city’s structure, identity and culture. Salamanca was also a key city during the Spanish Civil War. All the documents obtained by the national troops during the occupation of the country where concentrated in Salamanca, creating a famous archive of documents of the Spanish war. With the establishment of democracy and the arrival of monarchy in Spain, the prestige of the city and its University flourished again. Salamanca has become a cosmopolitan city and is continuously growing in culture and heritage, as shows its recognition by UNESCO as World Heritage Site, and its recent designation as European Capital of Culture, in the year 2002. The XV Latin American Heads of State and Government Summit in 2005 is another event that has put Salamanca on the world’s map.

Monuments and museums

Plaza Mayor de Salamanca

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in Spain and in the world and one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the Peninsula. Awarded the status of National Monument in 1935, in the technical and artistic accreditation it states that it is "the most decorated, proportionate and harmonious of all the squares of its period in Spain". It has 88 arches and a number of carves medallion reliefs. Currently, as in the past, the square is still the venue for the city’s major religious, civil and lay celebrations: bull-fighting, processions and in the past, even executions.

Old Cathedral and New Cathedral

The silhouette of the Cathedrals towers over the Salamanca skyline and its inside reflects the life and history of the city and the city’s residents. Together, standing side by side, they go to form a wonderful historical and artistic complex: Old Cathedral and New Cathedral. The new one, a fusion of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The Old one is Romanesque. Ieronimus exhibition Don’t forget to climb the cathedral’s medieval towers via the Ieronimus exhibition: one can walk around the exterior terraces, the lookout points and balustrades that look over the interior of the church, amidst gargoyles, pinnacles and cathedral bells. This visit gives you spectacular views over the Old Cathedral and its wonderful altarpiece; from the New Cathedral from its interior walkways; purveying the whole city, the cathedral complex, along the banks of the Tormes from the terraces and watchtower. Exceptional views, an incredible discovery and another wonderful gift from the Cathedral to the city.

University of Salamanca. Façade of the University

It is currently the oldest university in Spain. it is traditional for tourists to try to find the frog on its façade. During its period of greatest splendour, the 15th and 16th centuries, it was the head of the European Universities. One of the main features is the Fray Luis de León lecture hall, the reliefs along the stairwell of the cloister, and the Library, founded in 1254 by Alfonso X of Castile "the Wise", with a collection that contains a large number of priceless manuscripts and pre-1500 publications. Amongst these priceless treasures is a copy of the Tohá and the so-called "libros redondos" that Torres Villarroel bought in Paris and which are in fact globes, but he gave them this name so that the librarian at that time would agree to pay for them.

The Pontificial University and the Clerecía towers

The Royal College of the Jesuit Order was built in part by Gómez de Mora in 1611. The missionaries that were trained went on to spread the Catholic Faith around the world. Nevertheless, the herculean construction task lasted another 150 years before it was completed at which time, in 1767, the Jesuit Order was expelled from Spain by Carlos III. The building was subsequently split into four, was abandoned and then suffered the scorn of war, ecclesiastical confiscation and finally ruin. It was in 1946 that it was reformed and was used to house the Pontifical University.

La casa de las Conchas

It is one of the most popular palaces of Salamanca and one of the best examples of Spanish Gothic civil architecture. It was commissioned in the late 15th and early 16th century by Don Rodrigo Arias Maldonado, a relative of the Catholic Kings and Knight of the Order of Saint James. The shells are the main ornaments of the building’s facade. One of the aspects that generates a great deal of interest is why he chose the shells as the ornamental detail. This is the reason where the name "Casa de las Conchas (shells)" comes from.

Convento de San Esteban

The majority of this opulent building was started in the 16th Century on the orders of Cardinal Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, son of the second Duke of Alba. Within the area of the cloisters is the Sala Profundis. This is where Christopher Columbus first expressed his idea to the Dominicans of taking a different route to reach the "Indies". The backing of the Dominicans was decisive in the Catholic Kings decision to give their approval to Columbus’s venture. Just next to the cloister is the Santa Teresa confessional. In 1571, Santa Teresa was in Salamanca and used it to make her confessions.

Roman Bridge

Only the arches on the city-side of the bridge are original, the rest date from the rebuilding of the bridge in the 18th century. This bridge is part of the renowned Ruta de la Plata, a route that was of major economic and strategic importance following the Roman occupation. As we get to the bridge, we come across a pre-Roman carving of a boar, a sign of protection, immortalised in Lazarillo de Tormes, one of the great pieces of universal literature.

Anaya Palace

Former Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé (a university residency), founded in 1401 by Lord Diego de Anaya, and it is currently home to the Faculty of Languages. The current building is one of the few in Salamanca to be built in a neoclassical style. Construction work began in 1760, most likely the original Colegio having been destroyed or seriously damaged during the Lisbon Earthquake. It was built by José Hermosilla and Juan de Sagarvinaga. Its most distinguishing features are its facade, the cloister and the imperial stairwell inside the building where there is a bust of Miguel de Unamuno by Victorio Macho in 1930.It stopped being used as a university residency in 1798. The main facade has an immense entranceway with stairways and four pillars finished off with a pediment; at the highest part of the building is a large heraldic coat-of-arms; the ten windows of the lower floor boast a beautiful grille and there are another ten balconies on the upper floor.

Museum of Casa de Lis

An impressive modernist building with stained glass, is just one of the city’s treasures. It is home to the Art Nouveau and Art Déco Museum with an incredible collection of decorative art dating from the end of the 19th up to the early 20th century, which include the porcelain doll, bronze and marble figurine and glassware collections.