The walkable city of Salamanca, about three hours northwest of Madrid, and about four hours southeast from A Coruña, is one of the most important university cities in Spain, and in Europe.
University of Salamanca
The University of Salamanca, founded in 1134, is the oldest in Spain and the 4th oldest in Europe. Today, it's known for its programs in the humanities, and in particular, languages, economics, and law.
Part of the fun of visiting Salamanca is searching for, and finding the legendary frog. According to the legend, students would not graduate unless they found the frog on the main facade of the university. The frog is located on a skull, but where it is, you must find for yourself.
Students who found the frog were said to have good luck with their exams and graduate as expected.
Carvings of La Catedral Nueva
Other interesting Salamanca carvings include an astronaut and a gargoyle eating ice cream, located on the facade of the "new" Cathedral of the 16th-18th century.
When the Cathedral was being restored in 1992, the workers decided to modernize it with their own "signature," using the astronaut to represent the 20th century and the gargoyle to represent the students who pass through the University's halls.
Local tour guides enjoy pointing the carvings out to visitors who crane their necks to find and photograph their discoveries.
Other Salamanca Sites
Another popular Salamanca landmark is the Casa de las Conchas, or the House of Shells, with its facade of more than 300 carved scallop shells, symbol of the the Order of Santiago and the pilgrims who make their way along the Camino de Santiago across Spain.
During the Counter-Reformation, this was an important center for the Order, who founded the School of Salamanca, headed by Francisco de Vitoria, and assisted by St. Teresa of Avila and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
El Convento de San Esteban
It is also rumored that Christopher Columbus spent time here defending his idea of sailing west to the New World, against the advice of the geographers of Salamanca.
Plaza MayorSalamanca's Baroque-style Plaza Mayor, is, undoubtedly, the heart of the city, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful plazas in all of Spain. After having seen many throughout Spain, we agree.
Lined by restaurants, tapas bars, ice cream parlors and boutiques, the Plaza is known as La Dorada, or The Golden City, because of its sandstone buildings.
It's the perfect place for silly photo opps, having a glass of tinto de verano, or enjoying a gelato.
Each weeknight, Plaza visitors are serenaded by the Tuna Singers, black-robed university students who sing for tips in the square. The crowd-pleasers sing traditional songs, accompanied by old-style instruments. On weekends, they are hired for weddings and events.
We had a great time in Salamanca. There is much to see, do, and experience. Because of its compact historical district, it's walkable and easy to see most of the city's most historical sites in a few days' time. We look forward to going back.
Have you ever been to Salamanca? If so, what was your favorite place?