The plaza mayor is known as the ‘living room’ of Salamanca and indeed it was our favorite hang out.
The heart of Salamanca is definitely the Plaza Mayor. Built in 1729-1755, it is considered one of the grandest in Spain and we wholeheartedly agree. There has been no other major plaza that we have visited that is as comfortable and welcoming and where you actually want to be, as this gem. Locals also use this space as their ‘living room’ and we noticed that the few tourists here were also mostly from Spain.
Surrounding this National Monument are affordable restaurants offering delicious, creative tapas and pouring excellent wine from nearby Toro. Portrait medallions of famous historical figures like Cervantes, El Cid, Saint Theresa and dozens more line the entire plaza.
Plaza Mayor is the perfect place to relax, people watch and soak in the Salamancan vibe.
Casa-Museo de Unamuno
The Unamuno House-Museum ended up being one of the highlights of our stay in Salamanca. We had a personal guided tour, all in Spanish, and we were pleased that we were able to understand most of what he shared. 😁 We had not heard of this man and certainly walked away with far more knowledge and a respect for this historical figure.
The 3-story house, built around 1758, belongs to the University and is the place where Miguel de Unamuno lived when he was Rector of the University of Salamanca. Since the 1950’s it has been a museum dedicated to the life of Unamuno and includes furniture, personal items, mementos, family objects and pictures and more than 6,000 books from his personal collection.
Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936) was an influential scholar in Salamanca and Spain. He was a respected Professor of Greek and the Classics, writer, poet, philosopher and the Rector of Salamanca University twice: 1900-1924 and 1930-1936, each time removed because he spoke up against atrocities of a dictator in 1924 and against Franco in 1936. He is said to have died peacefully in his sleep after Franco confined him to house arrest.
Archivo Histórico Provincial de Salamanca
The Provincial Historical Archive of Salamanca was not a planned stop but we have been searching for sites that cover the Spanish Civil War and when we saw the sign, we knew we wanted to see what was inside.
The small museum is a collection of Spanish Civil War documents, posters, letters, records, propaganda materials and memorabilia showing how the people had to live to survive during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s often brutal dictatorship. There were documents that showed the clear involvement of Italian and German military forces supporting the Francoist side.
We feel it is important to maintain records and have museums that help the public remember the events of the Spanish Civil war, hopefully to prevent it from ever happening again. There were also Latin American records and currency on display which reflect the serious and crippling inflation; typical byproduct of any civil war.
It is a somber and worthwhile exhibition and it helped further our understanding of this seldom talked about period of Spain’s history.
The picture below of abarcas shoes is an example of man’s ingenuity. Due to the lack of footwear during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship afrweward, the poorest people used old tires to form the sole of shoes and either tied laces around their feet and legs or they added a buckle to keep the foot in the shoe. Franco’s government would eventually prohibit the use of tires for shoes as well.
Barrio del Oeste
Barrio del Oeste is a neighborhood known for its urban street art and we were able to pick up a map at the tourist office that showed where most of the art was located. It only took us a couple of hours to traverse the streets and collect our photos. There are such a variety of styles and skills, serious, comical and quirky and it was impossible for us to pick a favorite urban mural. Some murals are painted on walls but most are painted of the ‘garage’ doors that hide businesses behind them.
A couple or cortados and light tapas were much appreciated once we had finished.
Universidad de Salamanca
The University of Salamanca was founded in 1134 and by royal decree, in 1218 it named a ‘university’. It is the oldest university in Spain and said to be the 3rd oldest university still in operation in the world. Today there are more than 30,000 students from all around the world in attendance.
Said to be one of the most beautiful universities anywhere, the impressive plateresque façades of the University are absolutely mesmerizing. There are detailed carvings of saints, mythical characters, animals, decoration, coats of arms and much, much more, everywhere.
There is a superstition about a frog at the University. The story goes that if students manage to find, unaided, the carving of a frog on one of the building’s façades, they will pass their exams. Can you find the frog resting on one of the skulls?
Fun fact: Canadian resident Yann Martel, author of the award-winning novel Life of Pi was born in Salamanca during the time his parents were students at the University of Salamanca. Coincidentally, his father was working on his PhD about the Spanish writer, Miguel de Unamuno.
Casa de las Conchas
The historical building, Casa de las Conchas, was built by a knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela, in 1517. Another interesting façade, this one is decorated with more than 300 stone shells, which symbolize the Order of Santiago and the shells worn by the pilgrims who walk the celebrated Camino de Santiago.
Originally a palace, since 1993 Casa de las Conchas has been the Salamanca Public Library.
Puente Romano de Salamanca
Although the precise date of when this Roman Bridge was built is unknown, the bridge is referenced in two separate Roman Emperor’s writings in the 1st century CE.
We walked across this pedestrian-only bridge to see the Tormes River and to join with the millions of footsteps that have crossed it before us. Isn’t it amazing to think what this bridge could have witnessed in 2000 years? On our return walk we had the perfect view of both the Old and New Cathedral above us.
Traditional Castilian cuisine offered a couple of new dishes for us to try.
Hornazo – a meat pie with a characteristic diagonal-grid pattern on top of the dough, while the inside is made up of different layers of meat. Loin pork and chorizo are the main ingredients, but eggs, cured ham or bacon are often used as well.
Cheese with Quince – cubes or slices of quince jelly are served on a triangle of cheese – a delicate yet rich combination.
Scrambled Eggs with Farinato, a cooked, spicy sausage made up of pork, bread, onion and seasoning.
Tostas and Montaditos – a generous slice of bread topped with tiny portions of different traditional dishes. Don Quijote Café offered generous and delicious tostas and montaditos.
This fascinating city lies midway between Madrid and the Portuguese border and boasts more than 2000 years of history. Salamanca is not a large city – you can walk from one end to the other in an hour and it is like an outdoor museum where you see cathedrals, historic university buildings, palaces, churches and convents. Gazing up at Salamanca’s impressive skyline one can’t help but be drawn back in time.
Salud from these Salamancans,
Ted and Julia