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Spanish and Portuguese, Deparment of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Study Abroad

A Note on Salamanca

Salamanca, a city situated by the River Tormes about 100 miles northwest of Madrid and close to the border with Portugal, was founded around 400 BC by Celtic tribes, prior to the arrival of the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula. Pre-Roman remains can still be found in inscriptions and statues within Salamanca. Greek historians originally referred to the city as Helmántica and later Salamántica. It was not until the XIII Century that the city became known by its current name, Salamanca. Soon after the city was founded by the Celts, it was annexed by the Romans as part of the Lusitanian province. The Romanization of the city brought important developments: monuments, city walls and roads were built, and the city became a communication center between the north and the south of Spain by way of the so-called Ruta de la Plata, a route that passed through the Roman bridge still in use today. Salamanca was conquered by the Moors in 712 A.D. For a period of time, Salamanca, given its geographical location, became a space of conflict between the Christian kingdoms of Northern Spain and the Muslins to the South. In the 12th Century, Salamanca was restored to the Christian monarchs, and soon after it was rebuilt and began to flourish as the most important cultural and intellectual center of Spain. Its University founded by Alfonso IX in 1218 is the oldest in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. Salamanca has been a cultural magnet for writers, philosophers and historical figures, including Miguel de Cervantes, Fray Luis de León, Hernán Cortés, San Juan de la Cruz, Juan del Encina, Antonio de Nebrija, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, and musician Maestro Salinas. Carmen Martín Gaite, a contemporary woman novelist, was born in the city. Miguel de Unamuno, another very famous contemporary Spanish writer, lived for many years in the city where he was the Rector of the University of Salamanca. All of these artists have left the mark of their knowledge on, and have immortalized this beautiful city.

At the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st, Salamanca has been transformed into a modern city without losing the spirit of history and intellectual life for which it has been known. The city has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it was honored as European Capital of Culture for the year 2002. In a sense, it is still University life that colors the image that Salamanca projects and gives it its daily rhythm and atmosphere. Like Oxford and Cambridge, Salamanca is the Spanish University city.

Salamanca is a jewel of architecture: the baroque Plaza Mayor, the most beautiful plaza in all of Spain with its impressive arches as entrances, was built between 1729-1755, the Casa de las Conchas decorated on the outside with 350 scallop shells as symbols of the order of Saint James, the Patio de Escuelas, the Universidad de Salamanca whose richly adorned façade is a masterpiece of plateresque art, and the two Cathedrals, both included in the front page of this Program, are outstanding examples of Spanish architecture, art and sculpture. The new cathedral at the right side of the photo is a fine example of the combination of Gothic, plateresque and baroque styles.

Salamanca is surrounded by other historical cities such as Segovia, renowned for its Roman aqueduct, and La Alberca, a well-preserved medieval town.