A stroll through the streets of Salamanca is the discovery at every turn of monuments steeped in history and wisdom, medieval towers alongside plateresque façades, and Baroque reredoses in Modernist buildings. This is a dynamic, welcoming city, the fruit of its position on the Vía de la Plata and its university history.
The axis that runs from the church of San Marcos to the Roman bridge over the river Tormes, takes in the most emblematic points of the city.
Calle Zamora leads from St Mark's to the Plaza Mayor, one of Salamanca's jewels and one of the of the most important main squares in Spain. Arcaded in the Churrigueresque Baroque style, one of the main features is the so-called Pabellón Real (royal pavilion). It contains numerous medallions, several of them of key figures associated with the history of the city, such as Friar Luis de León and Unamuno, and others representing writers and professors of the University of Salamanca. Emerging from amidst the eighty or so arches around the square, and designed in the same style, is the City Hall.
The route to the so-called Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells), the Renaissance façade of which is adorned with more than 300 pilgrim shells (the symbol of the order that protected the pilgims' road to Santiago de Compostela), takes in Rúa Mayor. This street contains major Renaissance palaces, such as palaces of Salina, Orellana and Anaya, whilst situated nearby is the so-called Clerecía or monastery, a Baroque construction that now houses the Pontifical University.
The University of Salamanca is situated only a stone's throw away. Founded in 1254 by Alphonse X, also known as Alphonse the Learned, it is one of the oldest such institutions in Spain. Construction of the present-day building commenced during the 15th century in the Gothic style, although the main façade is plateresque. It displays a medallion with the effigy of the Catholic Monarchs and the coat of arms of the Emperor Charles V. Local tradition dictated that the figure of a frog on a skull be found to guarantee academic success.
Situated in the same Plaza de Anaya is the New Cathedral. Adjoined to this building, creating a complex of great beauty and balance, is the Old Cathedral. Commenced in the 12th century, the latter building combines Romanesque and Gothic elements. The most relevant external feature is the Torre del Gallo (Tower of the Cockerel), a Byzantine-inspired gadrooned dome on a double tambour. The cloister leads to the Chapel of Santa Bárbara, where prospective Doctors of Philosophy would keep vigil the night before their final exam: if they passed they would ring the bells, whilst failure meant exit via the Carros door. The ground plan of the Old Cathedral was altered when the New Cathedral was adjoined.
En route to the Roman bridge over the river Tormes, we arrive at the Casa Lis. This Modernist structure of iron, ceramics and glass houses the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, with more than 1,600 items of decorative art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The other side of the river affords one of the best panoramic views of the city. It is precisely on this bank of the Tormes that the city's parador is situated. Its restaurant provides an opportunity to sample the local cuisine. Having tried the odd dish in the old-style bars and restaurants of the historic quarter, now is the time to taste more elaborate casseroles. Roast suckling pig and young goat can be followed by "hornazos" (a type of pie) and "farinatos" (sausages made from breadcrumbs, pork fat and spices). The sweetmeats are based on Arabic, Hebrew and convent recipes. Marzipans (with sugar and almond) from the Monastery of Santa María de Dueñas, caramel-coated almonds from Alba de Tormes, and "bollo maimón" (a spongy type of marzipan) are just some of those on offer.
Salamanca also boasts important churches and convents dating back to the period when all the professors at the University were monks. Located close to the cathedrals is the Plaza del Concilio de Trento, where there are two important religious constructions: the Convent of San Esteban and the Convent of Las Dueñas. The former has a carved façade, in the fashion of a huge reredos, whilst its interior preserves a reredos by Churriguera and paintings by Claudio Coello. For its part, the Convento de las Dueñas combines vestiges of the Gothic, Mudejar and plasteresque styles, its founder having built it on her own palace.
The so-called Campo Charro leads on to Ciudad Rodrigo, one of the province's most historic places, and to the Sierra de Gata mountain range. Meanwhile, the river Tormes reveals the historic towns that have gradually emerged along its banks, such as Almenara de Tormes, Ledesma and San Felices de los Gallegos.
Oficina de Turismo: Rua Mayor, s/n
37008 Salamanca (Salamanca)
Tel. +34 923268571
Source: Web server of Instituto de Turismo de España, TURESPAÑA.