In the setting sun, Salamanca’s buildings glow gold, earning her the nickname, La Dorado, the golden city.
We are in the UNESCO city of Salamanca, the capital of the Province of Salamanca in the western autonomous community of Castile and León. Sandstone mined from a nearby quarry provided the building material for many of this city’s striking structures. The city has a clean and cohesive feel and when the late afternoon sun hits the warm color of the sandstone buildings, shades of rose and gold light up the streets.
We spent a week exploring this magnificent city and accumulated so many photos and experiences. There are amazing churches throughout Spain, but the cathedral, church and convent facades in Salamanca have incredible and sometimes even humorous details.
Catedral Vieja de Santa María de la Sede – the Old Cathedral
This city of less than 200,000 inhabitants surprisingly hosts two cathedrals. They have been named in the typical Spanish way, the old and new Cathedrals. (‘vieja and nueva’). What is unique is that the two cathedrals are joined together and the Old Cathedral is accessed via the New Cathedral.
Building of the St. Mary of the See Cathedral began in 1120 and was completed by 1236. It is the smaller of the two cathedrals and more simply decorated, but the remnants of hand painted murals covering the walls are a rare treasure to find in churches. Two students were playing music during our walk through, adding to the ambiance in this oldest of Christian sanctuaries in Salamanca.
The 53 piece altarpiece was incredible and a few other must-visit areas were the Diocesan Museum, the climbable Torre del Gallo and the remains of the 12th-century cloister, although the cloister was heavily damaged in the massive 1755 Lisbon earthquake so what we see today is after a partial reconstruction.
Catedral Nueva de Salamanca
Building of the New Cathedral began in 1513 and was completed in 1733. As the gothic style of architecture waned and just before the new renaissance style became popular, the blending of the two styles in Spain became known as the plateresque style. So although the new Cathedral was being constructed during the plateresque period, a decision was made for the cathedral to retain more of a gothic character so the new cathedral would blend better with the old cathedral. Over time other styles, including baroque features have been added. The header photo is of this large Cathedral.
The devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake was felt in Salamanca and residents took refuge in the new Cathedral. The cathedral survived with a few cracks, still visible today, and no fatalities, but the bell tower was severely damaged. Following the quake, the bell ringer had to climb up the outside of the tower to reach and ring the bells.
To commemorate that day, 265 years ago, every October 31 someone would goe up to the tower to manually ring the bells, to give thanks to God and ask that the terrible event not be repeated. Originally it was a member of the Mariquelos family, a family that lived inside the cathedral and was in charge of ringing the bells. The last Mariquelo of that family stopped climbing in 1977.
In 1985 the tradition was restarted and again each year, a climber, now called a “Mariquelo”, wearing the traditional charro costume, climbs to the highest part the tower of the cathedral to sing and play a drum and bagpipe.
This is an impressive Cathedral both inside and out. Inside the beautiful baroque choir stands out as does the 40′ domed tower.
The detailed stonework on the exterior is remarkable. Click on our link at the end called Cathedral of Salamanca, to see more detailed photos.
Iglesia de San Martín de Tours
Right next to the Plaza Major is the church of Saint Martín of Tours. San Martin has become one of our favorite Saints because he gave his cape to a beggar so we were happy to pop inside when the doors opened. Can you see the large stork nest on top? The next was empty in August of course but it adds to the charm of the churches exterior.
This church was built in 1103 in the Romanesque style and was once referred to as “San Martín del Mercado” or “San Martín de la Plaza” because of its location.
From its earliest beginnings the church has had numerous structural problems so reinforcements, improvements, renovations and repairs have been required each century.
Church of San Sebastián
The church of San Sebastián is somewhat dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, including the New Cathedral. It was initially built in 1410 but due to structural problems had to eventually be torn down. It was rebuilt between 1730 and 1739.
This is a very pretty church and the detailed white ceilings added a brightness and cheerfulness to the interior.
Convent of Las Agustinas and Iglesia de la Purísima
The Agustinas convent and the Church of the Immaculate are located in the historic center of Salamanca. The convent was built by the Count of Monterrey in 1636 for his daughter, the prioress.
The church part is believed to have been built as a funerary chapel for the Count and his family.
There are a number of wonderful art pieces inside and the famous José de Ribera painting entitled Immaculate Conception painted in 1635 in particular stands out.
The pulpit as well is truly another outstanding piece of art.
Convento de San Esteban
The Convent of Saint Stephen, built 1524-1610, is a Dominican monastery found on the eastern side of Salamanca and is the largest monastery in the city.
Inside is a magnificent gold covered alterpiece, a lovely ivory colored Soto stone staircase, built 1553-1556 and named after Dominion Friar, Domingo de Soto and the beautiful gothic King’s cloister.
While the church’s interior has impressive architectural features, it is the façade with its dozens of intricate carvings that may be the most remarkable.
Convent of the Annunciation, known as “Las Úrsulas”
Saint Ursula, a woman who lived in the 4th century, was the legendary leader of 11 or 11,000 virgins that were reputedly martyred in Cologne, now Germany, by the Huns. The story is based on an inscription from St. Ursula’s Church in Cologne, stating that a basilica had been built on the site where holy virgins had been killed.
Saint Ursula today is the patron of the nuns of the Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535, who were dedicated to educating girls.
The Ursulines convent was a female Franciscan convent built in 1460-1470. The interior of the church funtioned as both a monastic temple and a funerary space. It is a small church with a single nave and no chapels on the sides. In the center of the church is the tomb of the founder of the temple, Alonso II de Fonseca, who died in 1512.
In 2018 the few remaining nuns left the convent and since October 2019 the Poor Sisters of Santa Clara (Poor Clares) have temporarily taken on the management of the museum and former convent of the Úrsulas while decisions are being made about the properties future. There were pieces of artwork on display that are in excellent condition. Our favorite selections were the outstanding panels by Juan de Borgoña painted in the early 16th century
With it’s uncertain future, we are grateful we had the opportunity to visit.
Convento de las Dueñas
The Salamanca convent of Santa María, better known as Las Dueñas, was founded in 1419 by Juana Rodriguez Maldonado in her own palace. Her idea was to create a beguinage, a place where ‘lay’ religious noble women could live in a safe community without taking vows or without retiring from the world.
In 1533 a separate plateresque style church and magnificent 2-story cloister was built and Dominican nuns were invited to move in. The nuns dedicate their entire lives to prayer, study and work and the restful environment of this cloister must be helpful.
This golden city has interesting convents and churches galore that we wanted to write about and keep in one blog. Our next writing will highlite the more diverse experiences of Salamanca we want to record and share.
Salud from these Salamancans,
Ted and Julia
View the Cathedral of Salamanca photo gallery here
View the Ieronimus Tower (Old Cathedral) photo gallery here
View the Church of San Sebastian photo gallery here
View the Church of the Immaculate photo gallery here
View the Church of San Martin photo gallery here
View the Convent of the Annunciation photo gallery here
View the Convent of the Dueñas photo gallery here
View the Convent of San Esteban photo gallery here