The Old City of Salamanca covers an ancient university town with groups of buildings in the Churrigueresque style.
Salamanca lies in the heart of Spain, not far from Madrid. Besides two universities, the city has two cathedrals and a grand Plaza Mayor. The last was constructed in baroque style during the 18th century. The entrances to the Plaza are formed by impressive arches.
The Mansion Casa de las Conchas is another landmark of Salamanca. This 15th century house is decorated on the outside with 350 shells, as a symbol of the order of Saint James (where the owner was a member).
Map of SalamancaLoad map
Salamanca is certainly the most elegant and glamorous of all the historic city centres on the Spanish World Heritage List. This is mainly due to its harmonious townscape. Almost all the historic buildings are made of the golden-yellow sandstone from the nearby village of Villamyor. And the Plateresque style of many buildings also contributes to the extravagant look of the city. Plateresque means the elaborate and detailed ornamentation that is applied to the façades, mostly to decorate the main portal. Salamanca is a hotspot of this late Gothic/early Renaissance style, you will find it everywhere in the historic centre. The façades of the University and the Catedral Nueva are two of the best examples.
The most important historic buildings are located along an axis between the Roman Bridge and the Plaza Mayor. I had accommodation south of the city centre, just outside the core zone, so I entered the old town via the Roman Bridge. From there you have a nice first view of Salamanca and the two cathedrals (photo), the Catedral Nueva and the Catedral Vieja. But rather than two separate buildings, the new and larger cathedral was attached to the old one and the two structures merged into one. Both are worth visiting. Construction of the New Cathedral began in the 16th century and was completed in the 18th century. And thus, the interior is a mixture of styles from that period: Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. But I enjoyed the medieval atmosphere of the old cathedral more, I especially liked the tombs and wall paintings in the transept and the Capilla de San Martín.
The second attraction is just around the corner from the cathedral, the University of Salamanca, or rather the Escuelas Mayores, the oldest building of the oldest university in Spain. Before entering the building, take a look at the Plateresque facade. Binoculars or the telephoto lens are useful here. Try to spot the frog on the skull. It is said that a student who finds the frog without help will pass all exams. The frog, however, is quite small and well hidden amidst all the ornaments and figures on the façade. But as a tourist you can get help without risk, for example from this website (further down the page is also a description of strange carvings on the cathedral).
Today the Escuelas Mayores are a museum. A visit to the historic rooms, the assembly hall and the cloister is interesting but not overwhelming. Most impressive is the wooden interior of the old library, but it is closed to visitors. You can see it only from the entrance through a glass door.
And you shouldn't miss the Escuelas Menores, located in the southwest corner of the Patio de Escuelas. In one room of the nice courtyard, you will find the Cielo de Salamanca (Sky of Salamanca), a wonderful wall painting from the 15th century.
Salamanca is different, not like the winding labyrinth of Toledo and not like the austere Avila. Here the streets are wide and every few steps you come to a small square. It is great fun to stroll through the old town and explore the details of the Plateresque façades. The most striking building is the Casa de las Conchas, which is decorated with more than 300 shells. It looks different at any time of day, depending on the position of the sun, the shells create a different shadow pattern. Across the street is La Clerecía, the church of the Pontifical University. You can climb the towers for a nice view of the cathedral and the old town.
The last must-see is the Plaza Mayor. Many consider it the most beautiful square in Spain, and I wouldn't disagree. It's perfect for a break between sightseeing, drinking coffee and people-watching. And for tapas and wine in the evening, when the square is illuminatedp and the façades glow golden. Or go to the Mercado Central next door, where you can taste the local delicacies.
You haven't had enough of the Plateresque style yet?
Go to the Convento de San Esteban. Its portal is even more lavishly decorated than that of the cathedral.
You have had enough of the Plateresque style? You want to see something different?
Go to the Casal de Lis. It is the only modernist palazzo in Salamanca. It houses the Museo de Art Nouveau y Art Déco. The collection is worth seeing, but the most impressive feature is the glass roof in the patio.
I visited Salamanca in May 2019 on my trip through central Spain. Salamanca is about 200 kilometres east of Madrid, too far for a day trip. I would definitely recommend spending more time in Salamanca and also staying overnight.
I grew up going to school in an Hijas de Jesus institution in the Philippines. Salamanca was always a place I had wanted to visit, being the place where the congregation was founded, but also because it always sounded like such an interesting and historic city in the stories we were told about it. I could finally attest to that after visiting in May 2018. My family and I visited one afternoon in transit between Madrid and Lisbon. Trains from Madrid depart from the Chamartin Station, passing by Avila and its distinctive walls before arriving in the city of Salamanca. First, we took a taxi to the Hijas de Jesus school just to see what it was like. El Colegio Sagrado Corazon seemed to be closed for the day (was probably a weekend), but it was conveniently right below the hill where the cathedral towered prominently, so we walked up and into the side entrance of the cathedral - which turned out to be the exit (oops!). That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, because the cathedral was closing, and if we gone to the actual entrance, we would've wasted time taking pictures of the beautifully messy Churrigueresque facade and possibly missed the closing time. Anyway, the exit first brought us to the somewhat disheveled cloister and the many unique side chapels, then to the Romanesque, clearly older, Old Cathedral. Some interesting medieval frescoes and designs can be found here. Overall, it's a very solemn and historic, yet humble atmosphere in the Old Cathedral. The New Cathedral, which is directly connected to its older counterpart, is anything but humble. It was like a slightly smaller Seville Cathedral, but without the crowds, the gold, and the Columbus. Actually, with the lack of tourists, the empty church and its graceful Gothic vaults felt even bigger.
Right outside is the old city. Salamanca's historic centre was one of my favorites in Spain, along with Cordoba's, because of how well-preserved it is. Unlike Cordoba, though, Salamanca's is very cohesive. It's almost as if the entire city was carved from the same block of sandstone, and it just looks golden, literally. Every building, from the iconic Casa de las Conchas to the many beautiful churches, has that same Salamanca feel to it. I think that in such a diverse country and continent, this cohesiveness in a historic centre is refreshing and just as notable as one known for a fusion of cultures. Of course, the 2 most famous landmarks of the city, the heart and soul, are the Plaza Mayor and the University. The Plaza Mayor is the bustling, beating heart of the city, but unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it so much because there was an event blocking the normally stunning views. But the architecture still shines, and it blends in well with the rest of the city. Although much of the university is probably off limits to the casual sightseer, I enjoyed the external architecture a lot. It's intricate Salamanca design at its finest, I didn't know how else to describe it. Apparently it's Plateresque architecture, but Salamanca truly has its way of making different architectural styles fit right in with the rest of the city. The university is what I consider the soul of the city, because it's what makes Salamanca what it is. It's a university city, through and through. It's the reason the city is so renowned, and it's truly one of the most notable university cities in the world. Among other things, this is what seems to define the Salamanca experience. But whether you're a student or not you're bound to learn something here. There are just so many things to see and do here for a city of its size, but everything has the distinctive Salamanca stamp on it. That's why I loved Salamanca so much, and that's why it's a world-class WHS.
Spain offers many pleasures to its visitors, but sitting on the terrace of a café on Salamanca's fantastic Plaza Mayor, enjoying tapas and a cold drink on a sunny autumn day while watching busy locals and hordes of picture-taking tourists pass by, is really hard to beat. The main square is but one of this great city's many attractions, which is equally famous for its venerable university, the historic part of which makes for a very interesting visit. As in many other Spanish cities, there is also a great cathedral (actually a joint complex of 2 separate churches) to admire, as well as a Roman bridge and many historic buildings scattered around the Old Town. This is where the purest form of Spanish is supposed to be spoken (accounting for the tens of thousands of foreigners in its language schools), the city where Columbus explained his plans to sceptic professors and clergymen a few months before his first voyage, and the city where Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderón de la Barca studied - and today a must-see for any visitor not only to Castile but to Spain.
I visited this WHS in August 2003. Salamanca has one of the oldest universities in Europe but the highlight of my visit was the Plaza Mayor, with its impressive galleries and arcades.
Other architectural gems in Salamanca that I visited are the Archbishop's (Irish)Palace (reached by bus #11 from the station), and the several Romanesque churches on the north and east sides of town. Especially interesting were the Sancti Spiritus church and the circular church of San Marco.
I stayed for 4 weeks in Salamanca, and like most people, I did a Spanish course there. Classes were in the evening (16.30-20.30), so you had all day off.
Most remarkable though were the (long) evenings and nights: late-night dinner around 11 pm, and the rest of the night on the fabulous Plaza Mayor.
Salamanca is most famous for its university, but it was its two cathedrals that impressed me the most. The interior of both, filled with tombs of old clergy and paintings, is nothing too special, but I would recommend the Ieronimus exhibition whose entrance is located at the side of the cathedral. It costs extra but is worth every penny. It allows you to go on top of the cathedrals and gives spectacular views of both the city and the cathedrals.
My father and I visited this WHS on our last day in Spain. In addition to the university and cathedrals, we also stopped by the Roman bridge (nothing spectacular) and visited the church of San Esteban with its beautiful cloisters. A cursory look at the Plaza Mayor was also made. We had not originally planned to go to Salamanca, but we are glad we did. It would have been a tragedy to skip this place for a day of relaxation in Madrid.
In 2000/2001 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study at La Universidad de Salamanca. Still to this date, nearly 3 years later it remains in the forefront of my mind. Salamanca is such a wonderful, magical city that you can just close your eyes and that's where you want to be. It still feel like home. The University is very prestigious and offers great courses, the people are so warm and friendly and the town itslef is just breathtaking. What more can a student want? The real question is not why should I go?, it's How can I possibly leave? Every day I still ask myself why I left after a year. I would go back in a heartbeat, and so would all of you if you could just visit the wonderful city known as Salamanca.
I am responding to the question about Salamanca. In 1986, I spent my Spring semester of college attending the University of Salamanca. It was the best experience that I have ever had. I consider this town my home away from home. It has been many years since I have returned to Salamanca, but I always have such warm thoughts in my heart - the people, "my family", the wonderful old streets, and the Plaza Mayor. For anyone who is considering studying Spanish in another country, this would be the best place to choose. Not only does it have the oldest university in Spain, but the culture is so rich in it's town. It is something that I would do over again and again. Now that I am married and have children, I am looking forward to the day that they are old enough to visit the place that has stollen a piece of my heart.
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