SALAMANCA: PLACES TO VISIT
Situated on the plateau in the north of the Iberian península, Salamanca is part of the Castile and León autonomous community. It can be found on the Vía de la Plata, the Roman road between the modern towns of Mérida and Astorga.
The city’s history dates back to the Iron Age, with archaeological remains at Cerro de San Vicente on the banks of the river Tormes, when it was inhabited by the Vaccaei, Vettones, Romans and Visigoths.
In the Middle Ages, during the reign of Alfonso VI of León, Raimundo de Borgoña, who was married to Doña Urraca, the king’s eldest daughter, was given the job of repopulating the town. The largest group of settlers were the Serrano people, known as warriors and shepherds, as well as the Mozarabe, Franks and others. King Alfonso IX of León granted Salamanca a Land Charter and in 1218, its university was founded.
During the fifteenth century, Salamanca was an important hub for the textile manufacturing industry and a wool exporter, which brought wealth to the city thanks to the Council of the Mesta which regulated migratory herding – the seasonal movement of herds from winter to summer pastures and vice versa.
In 1492, Salamanca lived through the expulsion of the Jews, although the people of the city preserved the Jewish district, trusting that they would return.
In the sixteenth century, Salamanca joined the comunero movement against Emperor Charles
V because of the taxes that the Crown was imposing and in defence of its textile products.
In 1755, the city suffered from the effects of the Lisbon earthquake.
In the war of independence against the French, Salamanca was occupied until the Battle of the Arapiles in 1812, won under the command of the Duke of Wellington.
The University has been at the centre of life in Salamanca for centuries. In the sixteenth century, the so-called School of Salamanca emerged, formed by a group of academics and
theologians including Francisco de Vitoria, Domingo de Soto and Francisco Suárez, whose political and economic theories are still studied and debated today.
Fray Luis de León, a mystical poet and theologian, proclaimed the famous phrase “As we were saying yesterday” from a hall at the University after having been imprisoned by the Inquisition for five years, accused of having translated the Song of Songs from the Bible into the vernacular.
Salamanca is a city with two cathedrals connected by a common wall, the twelfth century Old cathedral with its lantern tower and scaled dome and the New Cathedral with its spectacular main facade. Nearby is the Jardín del huerto de Calixto y Melibea, which retains some of the mediaeval walls. The Baroque Plaza Mayor is the work of the Churrigueras, members of a family of architects and sculptors, with its City Hall and arcade. Here we see the Convent of San Esteban with its Churriguera high altarpiece and the Convent of the Dueñas with its Plateresque cloister.
There are also interesting mansions such as Casa de las Conchas with its facades decorated with Stone scallops, and the Palacio de San Boal with its sgraffiato facade, the Casa de Doña María la Brava, a Gothic building dating from the fifteenth century. The Plateresque Casa de las Muertes with its skulls on the facade. The Palacio de Monterey with its Plateresque-style towers, and the Palacio de la Salina, both designed by the architect Gil de Hontañón as well as modernist buildings such as Casa Lis and the Mercado de Abastos, principally made from iron.
Whilst exploring the streets of Salamanca, we simply must take in the university, known for its legend of the frog: the student who went to study in the city and found the frog on the facade, passed the exams and got married. It is on the main facade, where we find, written in Latin, the University’s mottos: “The principles of all the sciences are taught at the University of Salamanca”, and the most famous one: “What nature does not give, Salamanca does not lend”, a reference to the fact that there are some innate qualities that can’t be acquired, such as intelligence and perseverance, and which the university can’t bestow.
In the same province, you’ll find the natural parks of Arribes de Duero with the waterfall
on the course of the river Las Uces and La Fregeneda, with its inland port, the Parque de las
Batuecas – Sierra de Francia, as well as attractive towns such as La Alberca and Miranda del Castañar and the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia. The Béjar mountains and the town of Béjar with the Renaissance-style Palacio Ducal and the textile museum.
Other interesting towns include Ciudad Rodrigo with its walled quarter, Ledesma, which was a
Roman settlement and Alba de Tormes, with the Palacio de los Duques de Alba.
The local cuisine centres on the region’s pastureland, where wild cattle are raised and
Iberian pork which features in products such as ham and Iberian sausages with Guijuelo designation of origin, Morucha beef, Charra veal and Armuña lentils.
Among its most popular dishes are hornazo – a meat pie, farinato sausage and classic Castilian roasts.
This text has been created by Álvaro Palacios Pérez-Medina
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