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Salamanca has everything you’d expect from a Spanish city – delicious food, stunning architecture and great shops – but there are also plenty of things that make it unique. Soak up the historic atmosphere in this famous university town as you stroll through its narrow, cobbled streets and seek out these experiences to get a real taste of what the city is all about.
The main square, Plaza Mayor, is a lively and atmospheric place at any time of day. And most evenings the square is filled with the sound of traditional Spanish guitar and song, courtesy of groups of men dressed in old-fashioned minstrel outfits. These are the ‘tunas’, musical groups made up of students and professors from the university’s various faculties, distinguished by their different-coloured sashes. They’re having so much fun while performing that everyone in the square is guaranteed to have a good time too.
Salamanca’s history goes way back to Roman times and over the centuries a few truly extraordinary buildings have appeared. One of the most interesting is the Casa de las Conches, with an entire facade studded by carved stone shells representing those worn by pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago route. This starts to make sense when you find out that the house was built in 1517 by Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado, a knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela and also a professor in the University of Salamanca. The door is decorated with dolphins, which were a symbol of love in the Renaissance era, and under one of the shells there’s said to be a piece of hidden treasure.
Seek out the little chapel near the Escuelas de Menoras where you’ll find the Cielo de Salamanca (Salamanca Sky), an exquisite painted ceiling depicting the symbols of the zodiac along with their celestial constellations. This fresco was painted by Fernando Gallego between 1483 and 1486. The dark interior of the chapel is a cool refuge on a sunny day. Let your eyes adjust as you gaze upwards and the golden stars will magically reveal themselves.
If you have a week or more, take advantage of being in the most popular place to take Spanish language classes in the country. The most famous are held at the University of Salamanca, with students coming from every corner of the globe thanks to the reasonable prices and excellent quality of the courses. Find out how to enrol on the university’s official website.
Salamanca has a few unusual carvings hidden in plain sight on its famous buildings. The intricate carvings on the New Cathedral hide a couple of interesting ones. The New Cathedral is not really that ‘new’ – it was built between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Gothic and Baroque styles. Yet you can see what is unmistakably an astronaut depicted on the gothic relief of the cathedral’s lateral door. To make it even more mysterious, on the same relief there’s also gargoyle clearly eating an ice-cream cone and smirking at you, perched very close to the astronaut. Could the cathedral’s architects see the future? In fact both the astronaut and the gargoyle were added in 1992 by mischievous craftsmen doing some restoration work on the cathedral.
Another curiosity found at the university; tradition says that students will have no problem passing their exams if they can find the frog sitting somewhere in the intricate carved stonework above the main entrance, La Puerta de Salamanca. Even if you’re not a student, it’s still fun to look for Salamanca’s famous frog.
The buildings in Salamanca are made of a warm brown sandstone with golden tones, which appears to glow at sunset and sunrise. The whole city looks spectacular at this time; a good vantage point is the Roman Bridge. Or sit in the Plaza Mayor and enjoy a coffee or glass of wine al fresco as the sun goes down and the buildings seem to magically light up.