17.10.11

Salamanca

Salamanca in the region of Castilla-León (north-east of Madrid) is a university town. The University of Salamanca is the oldest of the existing universities in Spain. It was established in 1218 by King Alfonso IX and gives the city a very special feel. During the summer months, the university organizes Spanish language courses for foreign students and, thus, the city is transformed into a Tower of Babel.

You may even recognize parts of Salamanca even if you have never been there, since the city has been a filming location for a number of movies. Vantage Point, directed by Pete Travis and starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver; and Ridley Scott’s 1492: The Conquest of Paradise starring Gerard Depardieu and Fernando Rey were both partly filmed in the city.

Salamanca has a rich cultural heritage:
- Two cathedrals. The old and the new.
- La casa de las Conchas. Originally built as a palace and decorated with around 300 shells representing the symbol of the Order of Santiago (Saint James). Legend has it that a treasure can be found under one of them, or at the very least a gold coin, which was a custom at the time in order to attract good luck for the inhabitants of the palace.
- The main square.
- The Roman Bridge.
- The building that houses the archives of the Spanish Civil War. There is a small permanent exhibition about the war and also a replica of a Freemasonry hall.
- The statue that pays homage to the characters of the novel The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities.
- A private Art Nouveau Museum Museo de Lis . Make sure you also visit the Cafe.
- The garden of the lovers Calisto y Melibea. From the novel attributed to Fernando de Rojas. This is where, legend has it, the procuress La Celestina arranged for the lovers to meet.
- The University. Where Fray Luis de León and Miguel de Unamuno taught.
- The devil’s cave. This is where, legend has it, the devil taught black magic. The cave is mentioned in the poem The Lay of the last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott :
'In these far climes it was my lot
To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;
A wizard of such dreaded fame
That when, in Salamanca's cave,
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame!

Salamanca is definitely worth a visit. There are a number of good hotels in the city. The Parador of Salamanca is a modern building and boasts great views of the skyline of the city and the Cathedrals. The only snag is that it is on the other side of the river Tormes and a 15 minute walk from the centre of town, crossing the Roman Bridge. If you don’t wish to walk, bus number 9 stops just outside the Parador and will take you close to the main square.
If you are on a driving tour, about 80 Kms from Salamanca, the village of La Alberca is worth a visit. This small village has managed to maintain much of its traditional architecture.

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