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Sightseeing in Salamanca

Casa de las Conchas

You would be forgiven for initial confusion when first inspecting the outer extremities of the most photographed building in Salamanca, Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells), constructed between 1493 and 1517 by Rodrigo Arias Maldonado. It combines late Gothic architecture with Mudéjar and early Plateresque touches, belonging to what is known as Isabelline art. Its most striking feature, however, is undoubtedly the over 300 scallop shells that adorn its façade. Their purpose is still debated in the architectural community. The staircase is embellished with Italian style coffering (sunken panels in particular shapes). The Casa de Conchas was built for Rodrigo Maldonado de Talavera, a local knight of the Saint James order who was also a university rector. Not everyone is a fan of shellfish but, with that said, it is still one of the highlights of visiting Salamanca. Admission is free, though visitors are restricted to the inner courtyard. An aesthetically pleasing spot perfect for cultivated art enthusiasts.

Roman Bridge in Salamanca

When the new bridge into Salamanca was completed on October 22nd, 1913, a traffic sign was hung on it reading: "Attention: All vehicles over 18 tonnes use the Roman bridge." This anecdote helps explain why in Spanish calling something una obra de romanos (a Roman work) is synonymous with praising its high quality and durability. The Roman bridge (puente romano), built 19 centuries ago and spanning the River Tormes, remains to this day one of Salamanca's sturdiest bridges. In 1931 it was declared a national monument. Nowadays it is open only to pedestrians, though to this day there remain Roman bridges in Spain which are used for modern vehicular traffic. At the entrance to the Roman bridge is a bronze sculpture of the Lazarillo de Tormes accompanying the blind man he first served. Nearby you can find the Verraco (boar), a stone statue believed to be of Pre-Roman origin representing Salantine art and usually attributed to the Vettones (pre-Roman Celtics). As you can imagine, this is a location rich with historical value. The Roman Bridge is worth seeing lit up at night as well. Thriving with charming surroundings such as the nearby New and Old Cathedrals, going on a Sunday is especially rewarding as the Sunday flea market (el rastro) complements the visit. Indulge your interest in this authentically Spanish attraction that should definitely be on your list of things to visit while in Salamanca.

Salamanca Plaza Mayor

Originally an open space near the San Martín Church, in 1724 a plaza mayor based on Madrid's was commissioned. Architect Alberto de Churriguera began construction and Salamanca's Plaza Mayor was completed in 1755 by his successor Andrés García Quiñones. Upon completion, Salamanca Town Hall was immediately moved there. Architecturally, the Plaza Mayor is an improvement on the original, built with better materials and more harmonious proportions such that today it is considered as one of the most attractive plazas in Spain. Curiously, the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca is not a perfect square. None of its sides is equal in length to any other. The Town Hall façade is 82.60 metres long, the eastern façade 80.60 metres, the western façade 81.60 metres and the Church's side is 75.69 metres long. Plaza Mayor has a reputation for being lively at present and historically; as recently as 100 years ago bullfights were still taking place within the plaza, though don't worry about wearing that red t-shirt as those days have long since departed in this particular arena. Though if you are wondering what activites await you then you will be pleased to know there are several quaint shops perfect for collecting those oh-so-important souvenirs and as you walk around you will be helpless to resist getting involved in the daily festivities. Restaurants and tunas, meaning student musical bands, will help make your time there a memorable one. You may also notice the Arco del Toro (Bull's Arch) that leads you to the market. Award winning Spanish author Carmen Martin Gaite once remarked "el centro vivo de la ciudad, corazón al que afluyen todas las arterias" ("I live the centre of the city, the heart toward which all arteries flow.").

Old Cathedral in Salamanca

Begun at the start of the 12th century, the Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral) was not completed until the 14th century. It marked the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. It was very nearly demolished in the 16th century when construction began on the New Cathedral but the need for a place in which to hold religious services during construction earned it a reprieve. The central vault is the cathedral's most notable architectural feature. As Salamanca was on the Christian frontier at the time construction was started, it was originally designed to double as a fort and even had battlements (later removed). The main alterpiece of the cathedral is thought to have been created by the Italian Gothic painter Nicolás Florentino in 1430. The chapel was painted by Antón Sánchez de Segovia in 1262. The paintings in this chapel are considered to be the oldest signed paintings in Europe. It also contains the Renaissance paintings of Saint John the Baptist.

In the early years of the University of Salamanca classes were held in the cathedral and exams were administered in the Chapel of Santa Bárbara. Students would spend all night in the chapel seated in a chair with their feet up on those of the sculpture of Bishop Lucero, preparing the defence of their dissertation or thesis. The next morning the professors would show up along with any doctors who wished to attend. They'd take their seat on one of the benches surrounding the chapel and argue point by point against the reasoning of the student's work. If the student won the argument, thereby passing their exam, they would exit through the front door where their friends and a party awaited them. If they'd successfully defended a thesis, thus completeing a doctorate, their friends would write an anagram of the Latin word "VICTOR" (which has passed unaltered into modern English). If the student failed the exam they would be made to leave through the puerta de los carros (the back door, meant for carriages), a narrow passageway leading to the Calle Tentenecio where no friends nor party awaited. Admission to the Catedral Vieja begins at 10:00 latest with a 3 hour break from 13:00. It reopens at 16:00 and closes at about 20:00.

New Cathedral of Salamanca

The Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral) was originally proposed in the 15th century as a replacement for the Old Cathedral, given the swelling population of Salamanca in that period due to the intense influx of students from around the world looking to study at the renowned University of Salamanca. Its construction was finally ordered in 1509 by King Ferdinand and went on throughout the Spanish Golden Age. The New Cathedral was constructed right next to the old one. The old cathedral was due to be demolished to make way for the new cathedral, but because one of the walls of the new cathedral was structurally dependent on the old one it was ultimately kept, allowing for religious services to continue there for the duration of construction. Work on the cathedral stopped throughout the 17th century, which saw the decline and fall of the Spanish Empire, as it had become too expensive to maintain. It was not restarted until the 18th century, finally concluding and consecrated for its religious duties in 1733.

Astronaut on the New Cathedral of Salamanca

On November 1st, 1755, the Great Lisbon Earthquake severely weakened the cathedral's structure and it had to be reinforced. The belltower was particularly damaged and was left tilting to one side, precariously close to collapse. Many architects recommended its demolition. Eventually it was reinforced with 8 tensed chains and encased in stone adapted to the tilt. So it remains to this day. Some of the cracks in the cathedral's foundation and stain glass windows have also survived the passage of time though constant restoration is needed in order to maintain this memorable building in the modern day. The New Cathedral is late-Gothic in style and is one of the last two Gothic cathedrals built in Spain (the other being that of Segovia), though many Barroque features were later added. Catedral Nueva also has some tricks up its sleeve that will challenge your perception of a cathedral, for example the carving of an astronaut on the façade, which can be seen oddly placed in a mixture of more familiar carvings for a cathedral. The carving might have people believe the designers really meant it when saying it would be the new cathedral. The bubble is burst on interpretations of time-travel or alien intervention, as the astronaut was fruit of contemporary restoration work on the Puerta de Ramos in 1992 and meant to symbolise the beginning of the impending new millenium. The organ of the cathedral has proved its longevity and that of the cathedral itself, having remained in perfect tune for a century!

Calle Tentenecio

According to legend, Saint John of Sahagún (aka. Saint John of San Facondo, today the patron saint of Salamanca) performed one of the two miracles later attributed to him on this most famous of Salamancan streets. When a huge, enraged bull got loose and came charging down the alley, John of Sahagún is said to have been passing by. When the bull charged him at full speed he is said to have shouted at it, "¡Tente, necio!" (Halt, fool!) and with this the animal is said to have miraculously stopped and become tame. The name of the street, Tentenecio, is attributed to this legend.

Salamanca University

Salamanca University was the first in Europe to receive the designation "university". Founded in 1218 by Leonese King Alfonso IX, the professors of this university debated the merits and viability of Christopher Columbus' proposal of sailing west to map a new route to the East Indies by circling the globe. Later on, once America was colonised, they argued for the recognition of full human rights for the indigenous peoples, a revolutionary concept at the time, thus becoming one of the early focal points for the fledgling Humanist philosophy. Salamanca University is also thought to have had the first female university students in the world, among them Beatriz Galindo (nicknamed "La Latina"), for whom Madrid's district of "La Latina" is named. Beatriz Galindo was herself a Humanist of Aristotelian leanings; she was also a grammarian and professor of Latin (hence her nickname) and taught Latin to the Queen. She wrote poetry in Latin and had studied theology and medicine and statues of her can be found throughout Salamanca and Madrid.

Beatriz Galindo - La Latina

The University has had a significant influence on not only Salamanca but on a wider spectrum in Spain, through its troubled past with invasions and the decline of scholars at the end of the Spanish Golden Age. It has produced several truly prestigious graduates. Antonio de Nebrija, a Spanish scholar, published the first grammar of the Spanish language, also the first grammar in History of an Indoeuropean language other than Latin. Those with a passion for philosophy and quest for knowledge will be interested in Francisco de Vitoria, a Roman Catholic philosopher who combined Salmanticense and Conimbricense ideologies to create the "School of Salamanca". With a line up of such distinction, applications for Salamanca will be in high demand.

Salamanca University Cursos Internacionales

The origins of the University of Salamanca can be found in the Old Cathedral. There, the Cathedral Schools, formed at around 1130, were granted official status by the King in 1218 owing to the quality of their teaching. The university's first dedicated building was the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé (also known as the Colegio Viejo), established in 1401 by the Bishop Diego de Anaya Maldonado. It would be the first of many Escuelas Mayores and Escuelas Menores. During the 17th century, the University is considered to have entered into decadence as the Escuelas Mayores became the property of nobles and stopped accepting promising students from humble backgrounds. During the Napoleonic occupation in the 19th century, university buildings were ransacked and much of the stone with which they were made was used to build defences.

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