Salamanca is the home of Spain’s oldest university dating from around 1230. It’s the fourth oldest university in Europe. The whispers of the poets, scholars, and philosophers through the centuries can still be heard as you walk the streets of this Unesco Heritage treasure of a city. Students and professors, dressed in traditional black capes and leggings can still be heard singing in the tuna style, in the Plaza Mayor. Poetry and music are performed in multiple venues. Walk the halls of the University and feel the presence of brave, outspoken thinkers of earlier times. Peek your head into the ancient library. Sit and contemplate life in Salamanca’s grand plaza. Salamanca was one of our favorite cities.
Walking from the train station we admired the orange-yellow sandstone architecture of the Salamanca area. We arrived and checked in to the cute little hotel, Microtel Placentinos. We wandered around looking for the entrance to the university. It was hard to spot because the stone walls blended in with the rest of the structures around it. While exploring, we happened upon a cool venue called the Irish Theatre. It was old, with a dark wooden interior, and inside balconies. They were playing some great jazz music, which drew us in. Soon, the jazz was replaced with the futbol game. Another place we stopped offered three tapas and a drink for €4. And, we got to choose any tapa from the display on the counter. It was the best deal we’d come across in Spain! I read that the prices in Salamanca are low to accommodate the college population. Between the two of us our choices included an antipasti plate, meats with sauce, a marinated mushroom dish, and a croquette with tomato sauce. Mmmmm.
The next day, we had some sightseeing to do. Our goals for the day were to tour the University of Salamanca, the Old and New Cathedrals, the Automobile History Museum, the Art Nouveau Museum, and maybe a mysterious cave called La Cueva de Salamanca.
We found the university and joined many other visitors, including school tour groups. We learned about the university’s history of being an incubator of independent thought.
”It was here that freethinking brother Luis de León returned, after the Inquisition jailed and tortured him for five years; he had challenged the Church’s control of the word of God by translating part of the Bible into Castilian. He started his first post-imprisonment lecture with, ‘As we were saying…’ Such courageous men of truth believed the forces of the Inquisition were not even worth acknowledging.” ~Rick Steves
The university banned religious studies and separated them from the general studies colleges. Professors gained the right to intellectual freedom, which was a scandalous idea at the time. The college became a protector of a liberal education that included all of the world’s best thinking from the Greek’s thoughts on medicine to Arabic mathematic traditions. There were courses of study on surgery, cannon law, and criminal law. We found the old library fascinating.
After spending our morning at the university, and we headed toward the river to look for the other museums. On the way we found the ancient remains of the Roman Bridge over the Rio Tormes. Unfortunately though, we discovered the museums we were looking for were both closed on Monday. So, lunch was next on the list.
We’d seen an interesting local food called hornazo, and went to find the shop. Hornazo is a type of flat pie with a variety of options for fillings. The fillings included pepperoni and tomato sauce, Italian pasta with ground meat, a Spanish jamón and cheese, and an Indian-spiced version. There were serving size pies, a slice from a larger hornazo, or whole pies, both sweet and savory.
For our afternoon’s adventure, we searched out La Cueva de Salamanca, where the dark arts are said to be practiced. I guess that Salamaca, being a center of open-minded thought, attracted thinkers of all kinds, including the dark arts. We had fun looking for and walking around the cave, but we left with more questions than answers.
Later, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time when a tuna singing group was performing at tapas bar. After the performance, we started looking at our options for dinner as we joined the evening paseo. Again, we saw the elegant couples. There were dapper granddads in fedoras and sleek black jackets with their ladies decked out in full-length fur coats. I wanted to take pictures, but didn’t want to be rude.
We stopped to eat at a place where a man at the bar told us he was performing his poetry at 8:00 PM. We tried to stall and stretch our dinner out as long as possible. While stalling we had a little beer for €1.80 and Matt inquired, “Y pincho, por favor?” We were now in the part of Spain where tapas are called pinchos. We were invited to choose between all the options on the counter. We picked chopped pork and a skewer of pork. The slice of bread offered with our pincho really made us happy. The bread was filling and perfect for enjoying the sauce. Then, we ordered a plate of patatas and calamari rings. We stayed as long as we could, but by 8:30 the poet was at another table surrounded by young people, deep in conversation. Perhaps he was a professor. I did wish that we could stay and that I understood Spanish, so I could really appreciate his poetry. But, that was it for us in Salamanca.
On our way to the hotel, we looked for a small grocery store that sold snacks for our travel day the next day. We had no luck finding a store, but happened upon a student housing building with the door open. Inside the door there was a vending machine!! We hit the snack jackpot and stocked up for our big travel day.
We loved the intellectual and cultural atmosphere of Salamanca. It isn’t near the coast, but we could imagine ourselves hanging out here. Salamanca is known for its language programs, hmmm.
The next day, we were heading to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest corner of Spain.