Situated in the northwestern part of Spain is the city of Salamanca. This city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. This city is a hidden gem that offers authentic Spanish culture with 15th-century palaces, university buildings, and churches made out of Villamayor stone. This type of stone is a light beige sandstone that turns golden in the evenings giving Salamanca the nickname “La Dorada,” meaning the Golden City.
Walking through the city is much like walking through an open-air museum with brilliant historic monuments and enchanting buildings. The city has been famous since the Middle Ages as it drew students from all over Europe to its prestigious university.
In Salamanca, Spain, visitors are taken by its old cobblestone streets and quiet squares. It offers a rich heritage from Spain’s greatest philosophers, writers, and artists. Hostels in Salamanca are plentiful and are substantially cheaper than those of Madrid and Barcelona. Here are 8 reasons you should include Salamanca Spain on your backpacking list.
The Plaza Mayor
In the center of Salamanca Spain is the Plaza Mayor; built in traditional Spanish baroque style and currently used as a meeting place and market area. Interestingly, until the mid-1800sullfighting events were held at the plaza. It is surrounded by colonnaded architecture with each façade including a different number of arches. This then creates an appearance of uneven sides viewing the square as a panoramic.
The spandrels of the arches are decorated with medallions each exemplifying significant figures in Spanish history. These figures include Alfonso IX and Carlos III. The northern façade also consists of the City Hall which has two stories of balconies and windows ornamented with pediments.
However, the eastern façade consists of the Royal Pavilion which appears larger with a semicircular arch opening onto the Calle de Toro. Royal officials would watch events from the central balcony which has a medallion above depicting Philip V. The plaza is also known for being one of the filming locations for the 2008 film Vantage Point.
Museo Art Nouveau Deco
The Museo Art Nouveau y Deco is one of the most renowned art museums in the region with artistic masterpieces from the 19th century up until WWII. The museum consists of 19 collections of decorative art including paintings, sculptures, glasswork, enamels, bronze items, ivory pieces, jewels, furniture, and more. Noteworthy artists who contribute to the museum include Emile Galle, Rene Lalique, Masriera and Faberge, and Paul Nicolas.
There is also a major pictorial exhibition with 19th-century Catalonian pieces from local painters such as Celso Lagar and Mateo Hernandez. A bulk of the pieces at the museum are utilitarian objects which respond to thorough aesthetic criteria. The museum contains the largest number of porcelain dolls in the world along with impressive exhibits with chryselephantine statuettes.
It is located at Casi Lis which is the earliest Modernist building in Salamanca Spain. The building itself is a sight to see which was originally a private palace and definitely a site to see.
Old Cathedral of Salamanca, Spain
The city offers two cathedrals connected to one another with the oldest being a Romanesque-style building built in the 12th century. It reflects a combination of Romanesque and gothic styles showing the change in fashion as the cathedral was being constructed. Inside consists of the San Martin or Oil Chapel with a reredos created by several painters including Dello Delli. Also, the altarpiece was made in the 15th century with 53 painted panels depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. A mural painting covering the vault was done by the famous artist Nicolas Florentino featuring an image of Christ at the Last Judgement.
Along with impressive artwork, visitors can view beautiful tombs of the bishops and members of the nobility. Additionally, entrance to the cathedral is less than $6 which includes both cathedrals and the cloisters.
New Cathedral In Salamanca, Spain
The second cathedral found in Salamanca Spain is the New Cathedral. It was completed in the 1700s and includes a combination of late gothic and Baroque architecture. The cathedral took substantial damage from the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 and still shows cracks and broken windows today. As a way to commemorate events and people who took part in the restoration, the locals climb to the cupola of the tower on the 31st of October every year and play music with flutes and drums.
The cathedral also shows impeccable craftsmanship with ornate carvings on the façade. This includes the impressive artwork depicting a faun eating ice cream. It also has an image of an astronaut from the recent restoration. Additionally, the inside features an image of the Virgin of the Assumption carved in 1626 by Esteban Rueda. Along with this image are several Renaissance images including those of The Virgin of Loreto and Saint John the Baptist.
Casa de las Conchas
Otherwise known as “The House of Shells” is the Casa de las Conchas; a historical building in Salamanca Spain currently used as a public library. It is a Gothic-style building completed in the 15th century which includes Renaissance and Mudejar architectural aspects. The name House of Shells is derived from the 300 plus shells covering the outer walls and is a symbol of the order of Santiago.
In the 18th century, the building suffered dames causing most of the upper part to remain without shells. The entrance door features a Gothic coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs with lilies hung above it. The front façade also includes four Gothic windows each having a unique shape. The architrave includes statues of dolphins which are Renaissance symbols of love.
Also, the inner court reveals a beautiful assemblage of arches supported by square pilasters on the lower floor; and Carrara marble columns in the upper one. Visiting The House of Shells is free of charge and is well worth taking the time to visit.
Convento de San Esteban
A prime example of plateresque style architecture can be found at the Convento de San Esteban in Salamanca Spain. Plateresque is an artistic movement developed in Spain during the late Gothic and early Renaissance periods and means “in the manner of silversmith”. The Convento de San Esteban is a Dominican monastery completed in 1610 as a convent of the Order of Dominicans.
The interior includes impressive architectural features with a façade of intricate carvings. Additionally, it consists of three well-preserved cloisters with the Royal Cloister made by Brother Martin de Santiago being the most prominent. The chapel also includes a gold alter demonstrating incredible workmanship.
You can see storks nesting all over the elaborate rooftops and thousands of swifts putting on acrobatic displays. The entrance fee is less than $4 adding to the list of budget-friendly things to do in Salamanca.
The University of Salamanca, Spain
The oldest university in the Spanish speaking world and the fourth oldest in Europe is the University of Salamanca. It was founded in 1134 and is seen as a prime destination for people who want to learn the Spanish language. At one point it was the most prestigious university in the world founded by King Alfonso IX.
When it inaugurated its Spanish language program in 1929, it became the first Spanish university to offer language courses to foreign students. The campus consists of a set of historic buildings on the square called Patio de las Escuelas which includes plateresque architecture. Also, the center of the square includes a statue of Fray Luis de Leon; one of the most important writers during the Spanish renaissance. He was also one of the most influential alumni of the university. The Escuelas Menores buildings also sit beside the University building featuring classrooms, some of which offer ceilings painted by Fernando Gallego.
The Roman Bridge
One of the city’s most remarkable constructions providing living proof of the city’s antique origins is the Roman Bridge. Situated in Salamanca Spain, the bridge is an important symbol of the city as it includes the first quartering of the city’s coat of arms. Along with it is a stone bull-verraco carving.
The Roman Bridge also spans the River Tormes; measuring 176 meters in length with 26 semicircular arches. It is said to have been built as early as the first century A.D. during the reign of Marcus Ulpius Traianus.
Additionally, the bridge crosses one of the river’s widest stretches and forms part of Plata Roman road. Throughout history, this road linked the cities of Merida and Astorga. It represents the Salmantine art which was influenced by Celtic elements and was declared a National Monument. The bridge also provides exceptional views of the Old and New Cathedrals. It also lights up at night creating a glowing mirrored effect over the river.