Salamanca Introduction Walking Tour, Salamanca

Salamanca Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Salamanca

Polybius, the ancient Greek historian, called it "Helmantike." Another ancient Greek historian, Plutarch, opted for "Salmatike." The word "Salamanca" itself refers to a "cave," "grotto," or "dark place." Legend says Satan taught Black Magic in the Caves of Salamanca.

Salamanca's splendor began with the royal charter of Alfonso IX to the University of Salamanca in 1218. The University rivaled those of Oxford, Bologna, and Paris. Christopher Columbus lectured there. The famed Spanish Conquistador, Hernan Cortes, took classes. The great Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes, was an alum and wrote about the goings-on in the Caves. The University had its golden age.

The city's historic center is home to Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance, and Baroque monuments and buildings. The vast Main Square, with its galleries and arcades, was built by the order of Philip V in 1710. It is considered the heart of The "Golden City."

The Plateresque-style University has intricate carvings on its facade, including the "frog on a skull" sought by tourists. The House of Shells is covered with three hundred shells. The Art Deco and Art Nouveau Museum has an impressive collection of period artifacts.

The Romanesque and Gothic Old and New Cathedrals are "joined at the hip." The Cleric Church offers a "Stairway to Heaven." The Roman Bridge, dating from the time of Trajan, is still in use. Columbus stayed at the Dominican Monastery before sailing west.

In any of the inner city squares are restaurants and cafes offering real Iberian meals and, of course, wines. Have a glass and people-watch from a terrace. Try a tapas bar at the modernist Salamanca Central Market. Have chorizo and Maimon cake and marzipan cookies.

The Three Kings parade is in January. February brings the Carnival of the Bull and parades, carnivals, and parties. St. John of Sahagun in June brings bullfights, eating, drinking, and fireworks. As does the Feast of St James.

So much to do. Don't think about Satan and his smelly cave, but enjoy your visit to Salamanca.
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Salamanca Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Salamanca Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Salamanca (See other walking tours in Salamanca)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza Mayor (Main Square)
  • Mercado Central de Salamanca (Salamanca Central Market)
  • Palacio de la Salina (Salina Palace)
  • Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells)
  • The Clergy and Stairway to Heaven
  • Universidad de Salamanca (University of Salamanca)
  • Plaza de Anaya (Anaya Square)
  • Catedral Nueva de Salamanca (New Cathedral of Salmanca)
  • Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria (Old Cathedral of Salamanca)
  • Museo Art Nouveau and Art Deco (Art Deco and Art Nouveau Museum)
  • Puente Romano de Salamanca (Salamanca Roman Bridge)
Plaza Mayor (Main Square)

1) Plaza Mayor (Main Square) (must see)

So many things in Spain have to do with bulls. The Main Square (Plaza Mayor) of Salamanca, a large public square in the center of the city, started as a bull ring. King Felipe V ordered the construction of the plaza as a bull ring in 1729. It was completed in 1755. It was used for bullfighting until the mid-19th century.

The square evolved in phases. The first, up to 1735, was directed by Alberto Churriguera of the Churriguera architectural family of Barcelona. The second phase, from 1750 to 1755, was built by Manuel de Larra Churriguera. On the north side is the Baroque City Hall with five granite arches and a steeple by Andres Garcia de Quinones.

The site is roughly square-shaped. The surrounding facades of adjoining buildings all have three floors above the ground. The main facade is slightly higher. The overall effect is that of a bull ring. There are six different entrances around the plaza. There are 88 arches with decorated spandrels and more than 240 private balconies.

Bullfighting, processions, and executions have taken place in the square. Apartment owners often rented out their balconies to spectators. Gentlemen would parade clockwise around the gardens in the center of the square. Women walked around the circle of men in the opposite direction. It was a way to meet people on a Sunday.

The square is vast and pedestrianized. Strolling in the square in the evening, one is likely to meet young people, especially students, suddenly bursting into song. Sit at a table beside the square, it is pleasant to people-watch while dining on patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) in tomato sauce with a robust red wine. Salamancans love a paseo (stroll).

People meet under the starlit sky far into the night. They are singing and chanting. Students have a traditional style called "tuna music." The word "tuna" refers to the 15th-18th century lifestyle of black-garbed student troubadours. They serenade with guitars and mandolins. Finish the evening with tapas and iced gazpacho.
Mercado Central de Salamanca (Salamanca Central Market)

2) Mercado Central de Salamanca (Salamanca Central Market)

The Salamanca Central Market (Mercado Central de Salamanca), restored in 2001, is the oldest food market in the city. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the city market was located in the Old Cathedral of Salamanca in the square of Azoque Viejo. In time it moved to the area around the Church of San Martin, where the Main Square (Plaza Mayor) would later be built.

In 1899 it was decided to build the covered market of today. Provincial architect D. Joaquin de Vargas Aguirre designed the project, favoring a style of 19th-century iron modernism. The market was finally inaugurated in April 1909. The style followed that imposed by Les Halles in Paris in 1866. Iron markets were becoming popular in Spain.

The goals of the architecture were simplicity, good ventilation, and protection of the goods from the weather. The area of the market is about 19,000 square feet. The iron market takes a form like a huge metal umbrella. It uses a system of latticed beams converging in a rectangular skylight cover held up by 12 cast-iron columns.

The Central Market is built on two floors. It has 41 open stands, 37 of which offer cod, pickles, a bar, meats, bread and pasta, vegetables and fruit, legumes and preserves, fish, seafood, and cheeses. There are Morucha meats, Hinojosa cheese, Guijuelo ham, La Armuna lentils, and beans from Alberca. Four stalls sell non-food miscellaneous items.
Palacio de la Salina (Salina Palace)

3) Palacio de la Salina (Salina Palace)

Beware the Archbishop's revenge! Legend has it that in the 16th century, Archbishop Alonso de Fonseca visited Salamanca to attend a diocesan council. He was traveling with his mistress, Lady Juana Pimentel. When he asked for hospitality for himself and Juana, the disapproving nobles refused. The Archbishop had to be avenged.

Alonso caused the Palacio to be built and decorated with huge corbels of grotesque images of writhing, tortured figures showing great pain. It's true Alonso and Juana were an item, but the revenge story is fake.

Salina Palace (Palacio de la Salina) was ordered by Don Rodrigo de Messía, Lord of La Guardia, who was married to Doña Mayor de Fonseca and Toledo. Dona Mayor bequeathed the mansion to her second son, Juan Alonso de Fonseca. This is why the Fonseca coat of arms is on the facade of the building, and the palace is also called the Fonseca Palace (Palacio de Fonseca).

Salina Palace, built in 1538, is in the Plateresque style and shows Italian elements. It has a light, open facade, a patio with a gallery of arches, capitals, and the aforementioned monstrous corbels supporting the courtyard balconies. The architect was Rodrigo Gil de Hontanon.

The building was originally intended as a salt warehouse, hence the name "Salina." It was the headquarters of the Salt state monopoly until 1870. Juan Alonso was certainly the salt concessionaire of the city. Since 1884 Salina Palace has housed the Provincial Council.
Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells)

4) Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells) (must see)

The House of Shells (Casa de las Conchas) is a reflection of the intellectual awakening and architectural expansions of the Renaissance in Spain. It was built by Rodrigo Maldonado de Talavera, a jurist, chancellor of the Order of Santiago, and rector of the University of Salamanca. The urban palace towers of the nobility rose high above other city structures.

The building is a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Mudejar influences. The most striking effect is in the facade. It is adorned with over 300 shells, coats of arms, and escutcheons. This adorning is a characteristic of a Renaissance wall. The building facade is novel in the arrangement of the shells in the Mudejar rhombus fashion.

The main entrance has the Maldonado coat of arms in an ornate pediment over an array of dolphins. There are also four large Gothic-style windows and a stately tower. The inside patio combines Mudejar and Renaissance elements. There are galleries of mixtilinear arches and white marble columns with flowery capitals.

The balconies are Mudejar. The roof is crested with flowers and gargoyles. In the center of the courtyard is a well. Some say that the order of the shells (a symbol of the Pimentels) was a sign of the love of Don Rodrigo for his consort, Dona Juana. Another myth says the family hid their jewels under some of the shells.
The Clergy and Stairway to Heaven

5) The Clergy and Stairway to Heaven

The Clergy (La Clerecia) is the name for the former Royal College of the Holy Spirit of the Society of Jesus. It was built in Salamanca by order of Queen Margaret of Austria and Philip III in 1617. It was intended to be the center for Jesuit missionaries to the New World and Protestant European countries.

After the Jesuits were expelled from Spain, the building was ceded to the Royal Clergy of San Marcos (Real Clerecia de San Marcos) and was redubbed The Clergy (La Clerecia). In 1940 it became the headquarters of the Pontifical University of Salamanca. Since 2012 it has been open to tourism. It may also be a venue for the weddings of University alumni.

The gilded altarpiece of the Main Chapel was created in 1673 by Juan Fernandez. The church has a single wide transverse non-protruding nave with chapels between the buttresses and four bays. The ultra-Baroque Clergy holds an equally Baroque courtyard in a two-story cloister with its unique Stairway to Heaven (Scala Coeli).

This Stairway to Heaven is a wooden staircase of 180 steps that zig-zags its way up to the towers of the Clergy. The breathtaking climb is rewarded with a breathtaking view from either of the two towers. Access from one tower to the other is provided by an exterior passage over the roofs.

The tower balconies have large wooden doors. Lean over the railings. Take a deep breath and enjoy the panoramic views of Salamanca.
Universidad de Salamanca (University of Salamanca)

6) Universidad de Salamanca (University of Salamanca) (must see)

In his short play, the Cave of Salamanca (La Cueva de Salamanca), Miguel de Cervantes, an alumnus of the University of Salamanca, tells a comical story of the Dark Arts taught in the caves around the city. Seriously, Salamanca has been a center of learning since 1218, when King Alfonso IX founded the University of Salamanca.

Pope Alexander IV saw it as one of the four largest universities in the world, alongside those of Oxford, Paris, and Bologna. Its famous professors have included Luis de Leon, Beatriz Galindo, Melchor Cano, Francisco de Vitoria, and Miguel de Unamuno. Miguel de Cervantes, Hernando Cortes, and Christopher Columbus were among the alumni.

Some university facilities are found on the outskirts of the city. University headquarters are located among the historic buildings in the center of town in the Friar Luis de Leon Square (Plaza de Fray Luis de Leon). Student cafeterias, libraries, bookshops, theatres, and student endeavors create a lively near-spontaneous ambiance.

The widely dispersed University of Salamanca is composed of nine teaching and administrative campuses. The campuses are located in Avila, Zamora, Bejar, and Salamanca. The educational centers are housed in six campuses: Historical, Sciences, Campus of Canalejas, Campus Miguel de Unamuno (Health/law), City Garden, and Villa Mayor.

The main building of the University of Salamanca, built from 1415 to 1433, has an elegant Plateresque west facade facing the New Cathedral of Salamanca (1513). Adjoining University buildings include the old residence and library of scholar and writer Miguel de Unamuno, a rector of the University who died in 1936.

South of the New Cathedral is the Neoclassical Anaya College (Colegio de Anaya). The Fonseca College (Colegio de Fonseca), also known as the College of the Irish (1527), was ceded to the Irish to be an Irish seminary after the Peninsular War in 1814. The faculty of Law adjoins the complex. Three residential colleges were built in the 1950s.
Plaza de Anaya (Anaya Square)

7) Plaza de Anaya (Anaya Square)

The Anaya Square (Plaza de Anaya) was created in 1811, during the French occupation of the city in the Peninsula War. General Paul Thiebault, military governor of Salamanca, was residing at the Anaya Palace, once the College of San Bartolome. General Paul ordered the demolition of a group of buildings between the palace and the New Cathedral.

The General was apparently trying to improve lines of fire in the approaches to the palace. The houses were owned by the Council (Cabildo) of the New Cathedral. The buildings formed the streets of San Sebastian and Las Cadenas. Everything had to go. The result became an empty wasteland, at one time turning into a bocage of acacia trees.

The square, always pulsing with university life, is a great place to contemplate the New Cathedral. The site takes its name from the Anaya Palace. The square area as it existed before 1811 was known as the College Square (Plaza del Colegio) of the Old and New Cathedrals.

Renovations in 1910 and 1975 developed the present gardens of hedges, flowers, and Lebanese cedars. Visitors, entering from Rua Street (Calle de la Rua), are greeted by the square's enormous Sequoia tree, which seems to be almost as high as the tower of the New Cathedral.
Catedral Nueva de Salamanca (New Cathedral of Salmanca)

8) Catedral Nueva de Salamanca (New Cathedral of Salmanca) (must see)

In 1509 Ferdinand II of Aragon perceived the Old Cathedral of Salamanca to be "small, dark, and low." He ordered architects Anton Egas and Alonso Rodriguez to drop everything in Toledo and Seville and proceed to Salamanca to lay out a new temple.

The New Cathedral, after much discussion, was to be laid out parallel to the Old Cathedral. It was built in the Gothic style with frank stone from Villamayor. It has a rectangular floor plan with three central naves and two extra naves with niched side chapels. The header end is rectangular, forming a hall plan.

Work was halted through most of the 17th century and completed in 1733. All this suffered some devastation from the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Afterward, the dome was done over, and the bell tower was strengthened.

The catastrophe is remembered today with a traditional popular ceremony called, "Mariquelo." When the earthquake of 1755 made itself felt in Salamanca, the people huddled in the Cathedral, seeking Heaven's protection. The Cathedral stood, and no one died. The Cathedral Council felt there was a divine pattern to it all.

The Council ordered that each year on October 31st, a Mariquelo family member should climb to the top of the Cathedral to ring the bells in gratitude to God and also, to check on the inclination of the tower, which had developed a slight list. The Mariquelos had been living in the Cathedral, so they got the job.

In 1976 the last member of the clan made the ascent of the tower, and the tradition fell into disuse. In 1985 however, it was revived. Today, a man dressed as a cowboy (charro) climbs the tower, carrying bagpipes and drums. The bell rings, and the people in the square thank God and pray for peace.
Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria (Old Cathedral of Salamanca)

9) Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria (Old Cathedral of Salamanca) (must see)

The Old Cathedral's official name is the Cathedral of Saint Mary (Catedral de Santa Maria). The cathedral was founded in 1120 by Salamanca's first bishop, Jerome of Perigord. Construction continued until the final days of the 14th century.

This was an era of transition in many buildings, from Romanesque to Gothic styles. The shift from Romanesque to Gothic is abrupt. Construction of the New Cathedral lasted from 1520 to 1733. The Old Cathedral remained open, and the decision to demolish it was kept on hold.

The cathedral has a basilica plan and a Latin cross. It has three naves and a chevet with three cylindrical apses with semicircular windows. The religious edifice was built with a fortress in mind, but the original battlements are gone.

The impressive dome above the transept is held up by massive pendentives. The outer shape is conical, decorated with scales, and crowned with a rooster weather vane, giving it the name, "Tower of the Rooster." The dome sits on a drum of 16 columns and 32 windows. It was restrengthened in the 19th century to avoid collapse.

Inside, the main 15th-century altarpiece is by artist Nicolas Florentino, who also did the upper fresco of The Last Judgment. The chapel of San Martin is housed in the hollow of the bell tower. There is a painting of Saint Martin sharing his cape with a beggar. The chapel holds several tombs from the 12th and 13 centuries.

There are the Chapels of San Salvador and Santa Barbara on the eastern and southern sides of the old cloister. San Salvador is the oldest. There is a tomb in the center, under the Islamic-style dome. The Chapel of Santa Barbara served as the examination room for bachelor and doctoral candidates.

The chapter rooms of the cloister, built in 1526, house the Cathedral Museum. The Chapel of Santa Catalina dates from the 12th century. The largest room, it is used for cultural events and conferences. The Chapel of San Bartolome holds the tomb of Diego de Anaya, who founded the College of San Bartolome.
Museo Art Nouveau and Art Deco (Art Deco and Art Nouveau Museum)

10) Museo Art Nouveau and Art Deco (Art Deco and Art Nouveau Museum) (must see)

The Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco is housed in the Lis House (Casa Lis). Don Miguel de Lis owned a tanning factory. He was thought of as a gifted businessman with inexhaustible energy for work. He inherited the factory and introduced modern production methods of the 19th century that made him rich in his own right.

Don Miguel had another dream, a palatial home. His palace, nestling on an old city wall, was designed by Provincial Architect Joaquin de Vargas y Aguirre. Vargas developed the entire house around an interior patio central to the rooms. He created the facade in iron and glass as a bit of modernist industrial architecture.

Lis House passed through the hands of several owners and finally fell into neglect and deterioration. In 1981 the Salamanca City Council expropriated the building. At present, the Lis House is home to the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

The museum exhibits decorative arts from the late 19th century and the period between the two World Wars. It also has one of the largest collections of porcelain dolls. Items displayed include furniture, jewels, fans, textiles, bronzes, and glazes. The chryselephantine statuettes are bronze and marble figures on a marble and onyx base.

When the visit is over, the souvenir and gift shop, Tienda de Lis, is worth a look. The Cafe de Lis is available for snacks or dinner.
Puente Romano de Salamanca (Salamanca Roman Bridge)

11) Puente Romano de Salamanca (Salamanca Roman Bridge)

The Roman bridge of Salamanca is also known as the main bridge. It crosses the River Tormes, giving access to the southern part of the city. Of the 26 arches of the bridge, fifteen date from Roman times. It is in two parts, the old pedestrian Roman bridge, and the new Hispanic bridge, separated by a central headframe.

The date of construction of the Roman bridge is thought to fall within the reigns of Augustus and Vespasian, somewhere between 27 BC and 79 AD. An early popular myth claims the bridge was built by Hercules and later rebuilt by Emperor Trajan. It was built to connect Salamanca to the Silver Route (Via de la Plata), the old route to the south.

At the entrance to the bridge is the figure of a stone boar. Large stone boars or bulls were utilized to delimit land used for grazing or had some religious function. The mysterious boars are found throughout Spain.

The Tormes, like the Tagus, is considered among the most dangerous rivers in Spain for its chronic flooding. Major repairs were carried out in 1627 and 1767, leaving the bridge with eleven modern and fifteen Roman arches. In 1891 it was decided to build a new parallel bridge upstream.

Walking Tours in Salamanca, Spain

Create Your Own Walk in Salamanca

Create Your Own Walk in Salamanca

Creating your own self-guided walk in Salamanca is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Salamanca's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Salamanca's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Salamanca – one of Spain’s most delightful and intriguing destinations – is a treasure trove of architectural marvels. The abundance of well-preserved, centuries-old wonders of construction tucked away in the labyrinth of narrow lanes in this prestigious university city is truly awe-inspiring. A true feast for the eyes, they are so impressive that the entire historic center of Salamanca was...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles