Spain Guide


Salamanca Spain

Salamanca is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name in the region of Castilla Leon. Located 118 kilometres east of the Portuguese border and 204 kilometres to the north west of Madrid, this is a magical city which boasts the oldest university in Spain and ancient buildings of breathtaking beauty. Its streets and plazas are brimming with history and vibrant with life thanks to the large Spanish and foreign student population. UNESCO has declared the entire city a world heritage site and in 2002 it was the European Capital of Culture.

They call it "La Dorada" the Golden City because its buildings are made from the Villamayor golden sandstone which shimmers with ever changing hues according to the position and strength of the sun. Even the more modern buildings have been constructed from this special stone which at times appears almost golden though you might also see shades of ochre, red, pink and yellow depending on the sunlight. It's also called the Land of the Bulls because Spain's fighting bulls are reared in the pastures beyond the city.

Salamanca will bewitch you with its history, culture and beauty. These are qualities which seem to seep from the very walls of the city's turreted palaces, faded convents, Romanesque churches and monasteries. Children and teenagers may find the place dull; it's not a family holiday destination but foreign tourists flock here in droves to spend a day or two soaking up the city's many historic attractions.

The city has its own airport but the nearest international airport serving all the major European capitals and the USA is Madrid's Barajas Airport, two hours drive to the south east of Salamanca. If you're planning a visit, bear in mind that the winters here are relatively long compared with most of Spain and the average temperature is an unappealing 6C. In the summer months the temperature rarely rises above 22C and the nights can be decidedly cool.

Topping the list for most tourists is a visit to the university, founded by Alfonso IX in the year 1218. In its day it was ranked as one of the four leading lights of the medieval world along with the universities of Oxford, Paris and Bologna. Foreign students, especially Americans, come here from far and wide to study Spanish in a city which is almost a living museum. One of the university's most famous and popular features is the small, carved frog which sits on a skull amid the many figures which adorn the elaborate façade of the building. Tradition has it that if you can find the frog unaided you'll have good luck for a year. So try to avoid those irritating tour guides who point it out with a red laser beam because that doesn't count!

The university's students were originally taught in the 12th century cathedral which is another major visitor attraction along with the "new" cathedral which was built alongside it at the beginning of the 16th century. A visit to the city's majestic Plaza Mayor is a must because it's probably the loveliest square in the whole of Spain. Try to experience the Plaza Mayor at night also as it becomes beautifully lit, accentuating its grand architecture.

Another tourist destination within this historic city is the Convento de San Esteban, a majestic stone building perfect for an afternoon sit down to enjoy the peace.