Salamanca (pop.158,457) has been very aptly described as “the wise city“ .And indeed, this venerable town on the river Tormes has been decisive in the growth of the soul of the Spanish nation. The UNESCO declared it part of the Heritage of Mankind in recognition of its artistic legacy. It has now-most deservedly-been designated “European City“ of 2002.
The best place to start a walk round Salamanca is the porticoed Plaza Mayor, the most important in Spain in terms of size and construction. Built between 1729 and 1755 to a design by the Churriguera brothers,east side is occupied by the Royal pavilion, adorned with a bust of Philip V.A sunset, the tones of the golden stone of buildings like the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) are quite unforgettable. Following the Rua Mayor one comes to the Casa de las Conchas, the monument that best represents Salamancan civil architecture. This odd name (which means the House of Shells) comes from the pilgrims’ symbol, the scallop, adorning the walls.
Opposite stand the Clerecía, now the headquarters of the Pontifical University. This is considered one of the masterpieces of Baroque and took over one hundred years to build. Calle Libreros leads to the University, the source of Salamanca’s universal fame. Founded as such by Alfonso X the Wise in 1254, its facade, the best exiting example of local Plateresque art, bears a well-known medallion with the image of the Catholic Monarchs in relief .The courtyard is dominated by a statue of Fray Luis de Leon, another of the many luminaries who have passed through this institution. In the Minor Colleges is the Museum of Salamanca , which contains an important art gallery.
Among other things, Salamanca can boast two cathedrals. The New Cathedral was begum by Juan Gil de Hontañon to remedy the shortcomings of the old one,and the work was completed in 1733.The predominant note in the building is late Gothic, although there are also numerous Renaissance elements, particularly in the decoration of the walls. The tower was buit in 1705 by the Churriguera brothers but had to be remodeled to make good the damage caused by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
The two cathedrals are connected, and therefore one can pass straight through to the Old Cathedral. The most striking element on the exterior is the Torre del Gallo (Clock Tower), an exquisite dome evecing Byzantine influence. The Cathedral Museum exhibits major paintings by Francisco Gallego and Juan de Flandes.
Opposite the cathedral is the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, housed in the Casa Lis, a pretty Modernist building built in 1905.It contains furnishings, porcelains and a fascinating collection of toys.
Around the plaza del Concilio de Trento are two convents well worth a visit. The Church of San Esteban has an unusual facade protected by a triumphal arch wrought in the manner of a gigantic altarpiece. The Convent of Las Dueñas boasts a beautiful combination of Gothic, Mudejar and Plateresque elements.