The city of Salamanca is a true museum of architecture, and there are examples of constructions from all the different eras and in all the different styles. The buildings of Salamanca were constructed using stone from the nearby Villamayor quarry. It was as soft as sandstone, and during the 16C was finely worked to produce the marvellous filigree work of an art that became known as Plateresque. It is a stone that is composed of iron ore which hardens and rusts in contact with the air. Consequently, with the passing of time it takes on the beautiful golden colour which has always been associated with the city.
If the golden-coloured stone constitutes the material side of Salamanca, its spirit is found in science and culture, in a university way of life of both intellect and youthfulness. The University was built in 1218 by order of King Alfonso IX at a time which more of less coincided with the appearance of the Universities of Paris and Bologna. The very soul of Salamanca is to be encountered in its faculties and libraries, as well in the hustle, bustle and merrymaking during the day and night in and around its Plaza Mayor -one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
This soul is also expressed in the solemnity of the rustic horsemen (evidence of which can be seen in the magnificent monument by Venancio Blanco, located in the Plaza de España), and in the soberness of style of its bullfighters of the School of Salamanca.
There are sculptures which remind us of the close ties between Salamanca and the most important figures of Spanish intellectual history to be found in the city´s many squares: eg, that of Christopher Columbus (in the square of the same name); the university professor and poet Fray Luis de LeÃ³n (in front of the University); Santa Teresa (opposite her house in the square that now bears her name); the jurist P. Vitoria (in front of the magnificent Dominican Convent of San Esteban; Nebrija, the creator of Spanish grammar (next to the Church of San Marcos); the poet Gabriel y GalÃ¡n (along with his characters in El Ama and La Montaraza in the square that bears his name); and not forgetting Miguel de Unamuno (represented in an outstanding sculpture by Pablo Serrano standing in the Gothic apse of the Convent of Las Ãrsulas, opposite the Plateresque Casa de las Muertes). He captured so well both the spirit and the marvel of the city in the following verses: `I keep your very soul in my heart. And you, my golden Salamanca, will keep my memory when I die`.
A FOREST OF LOFTY TOWERS:
If the traveller views the marvellous ensemble that is Salamanca from the other side of the river (where the Parador is located) he will see for himself the `forest of lofty towers` that Unamuno spoke of. They are, in fact, the towers of its churches. The very first were built at the time of the city´s foundation -one in each district or parish- and go to form `Romanesque` Salamanca. The six most important are the Churches of San MartÃn, San Marcos (with its circular ground plan), Santo TomÃ¡s de Canterbury (built by English settlers), San CristÃ³bal, San Juan de Barbalos and Santiago (St. James). The latter is a MudÃ©jar brick construction standing next to the bridge.
Nevertheless, the Romanesque style not only manifested itself in the construction of small churches. The RodrÃguez FabrÃ©s Foundation preserves the remains of some magnificent cloisters which clearly once belonged to a very fine building, and at the highest point of the city stands one of the most beautiful cathedrals of Spanish-Romanesque architecture: the so-called Old and New Cathedrals. Outside stands the imposing El Gallo Tower while inside can be found some truly outstanding gems (eg, its reredos, tombs and cloisters). There is also a delightful museum which contains many important paintings. In addition, there are several beautiful chapels, including that of Anaya with a marvellous railing around the tomb, and that of Santa BÃ¡rbara where the University licenciates used to spend the night before presenting their doctoral theses.
ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY:
The establishment of the University brought in the creation of a multitude of colleges, such as the famous Fonseca College and that of Los Irlandeses (the Irish) -with its delightful Renaissance courtyard and a chapel with a reredos by Berruguete. In addition, a large number of convents belonging to the different religious orders that showed a concern for science and knowledge began to spring up. Consequently, the Dominicans built the great Convent of San Esteban, where it is believed Columbus stayed and discussed the possibilities of success of his ensuing discovery. In the church one can admire the tomb of the Duke of Alba and the magnificent Baroque reredos that was the work of Churriguera. The convent itself has a fine staircase and a splendid Plateresque courtyard. Yet another courtyard, also in the Plateresque style, can be visited in the Convent of Las Dueñas which stands opposite the Convent of San Esteban.
The Jesuits constructed their own theological and juridical College opposite the one that had been established by the Dominicans. Moreover, some years later in the 17C they were to build the magnificent Baroque Seminary (La ClerecÃa), which has a large church with a fine dome, as well as a splendid ensemble of other constructions around the latter´s enormous courtyard. Today they form what is known as the Pontifical University.
Calatrava College (now the Seminary) also belongs to the beautiful Baroque period and was the work of Churriguera, whereas the Church of Las Agustinas -located opposite Monterrey Palace- is an outstanding example of 17C Eccleasiastical Baroque. It preserves the famous work by Ribera depicting the Immaculate Conception. Anaya College was built in the 18C in the Neoclassical style. It stands on the other side of the Cathedral and preserves a bust of Unamuno that was the work of Victorio Macho.
THE TIME OF GREAT CONSTRUCTION:
During the 18C Churriguera created the marvellous Plaza Mayor -an architectural masterpiece of great beauty and an important aspect of the day-to-day life of the city. The traveller is highly recommended to take a leisurely rest there.
The House of Lis is an interesting Modernist structure and a fine example of architecture in iron. The 20C saw the building of the streets known as Gran VÃa and España, which were very typical in style and made great use of stone and arcades.
All in all, Salamanca is a never-ending source of wonder. Its streets and hidden-away corners provide the traveller with a host of surprises. As recently as May 1989, Queen Sofia presided the inaugural ceremony for the restoration of a hitherto unknown architectural gem: the Convent of Las Claras.
The city is a museum to stone and architecture. It was for this very reason that the Marquis of Almarza was led to write the following verses in the church that he built opposite his own palace, and which can be found in the secluded San Boal square: `I have brought together, in my great construction, the spirit of its beginning and the glory of its completion.
The city has been declared Mankind Heritage by UNESCO.